Date:Monday January 7 2008
Manchester United are often accused these days that they are a one-man team. That one man would be Cristiano Ronaldo who has already 19 goals to his name this season, only four short of his magnificent tally of 23 that he achieved in 2006/07.
Those who actually watch our games will agree that this claim is rubbish. Ronaldo is a vital part of the team, the best finisher of the squad and someone with a priceless ability to conjure something out of nothing. But Carlos Tevez's pace and Giggs's vision and Anderson's silky steel and the Rio-Vida partnership... these are all quality players who are great assets to the club.
We scored three against Milan with Ronaldo having a poor game. We crushed Aston Villa at Villa Park with Ronaldo sitting on the bench. Last season's defeat of Liverpool at Old Trafford was achieved with Fletcher playing on the right - Ronaldo was left on the bench. And the Roma game was 3-0 before he made any important impact, apart from the pass to Carrick before the first goal.
So I don't buy this 'we-are-average-without-Ronaldo' theory. However, it is true that our fortunes depend heavily on one man and that man is Wayne Rooney.
Yes. He's less controversial, less spectacular but a matchwinner like Ronaldo. His skills are well-known and on his day he can single-handedly destroy any team on the world. But that's not his greatest asset and it's not that why he's so important.
Quite simply, the team do not have a real drive, their game is not purposeful enough without Rooney. He's the one who gives shape to our attacking play, it's often him who dictates our rhytm. And the great thing is that he does not need to be on top of his form to do this. Even when he's struggling to get the better of his markers by pace and skill, his neat touches and quick, intelligent passes can make the difference. And he can lead the line with two defenders constantly right on his back, thus freeing up space for his teammates that they can exploit.
In that sense, he's absolutely like Eric Cantona: his mere presence allows United to play better, gives the team a rhytm, a flow. Ronaldo is not like that. When he does not play well, he's bad, end of. He can be marked out of the game and if it's done, he's no use to the team. And even with Ronaldo on top of his form, we often look lost without Rooney, experienced heads like Giggs fail to come to terms with his absence. It's no coincidence that we have not lost a game in which Rooney played this season and that we nearly always win when he scores.
So, amid the deserved praise for Ronaldo, let's hail our young Englishman whose injuries prevented United from building up a sustained run of form. It is a concern, though: more injuries to Wayne Rooney would mean we have significantly less chance of success. It is also no coincidence that our record-breaking scoring run came when Rooney finally found his form after the metatarsal fracture. We must hope that our most important player's feet will be able to carry us until the end of the season from now. What we have seen at Villa Park confirms that his health is the crucial issue for United.
Date:Monday January 7 2008
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