Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rooney needs to curb aggression, not celebrate it!

Stubborn Wayne Rooney.

The Englishman recently defended his truculent behavior, ever on display this season, in what is an argument based more out of said emotion and rationalization than footballing sense.

To be sure, the passion and aggression Rooney exudes and personifies has its benefits when marshaled and channeled. But instead when anger controls the player, self-destruction follows.

Rooney needn't look any further than fellow teammate and former starlet Cristiano Ronaldo for insight into how emotions can curb a player's growth.

The Portugeuse serves as a fine warning sign. Last year, he did everything to deserve all the accolades awarded to him. His form was rampant, consistent, dominating; he was focused and confident.

This season, pressures conspire to expunge all patience and most efficacy from Ronaldo's game. Insecurity and arrogance replaced confidence. Blame replaced accountability.

The result for the Portuguese? More disgrace than Rooney ever brings upon himself, surely, and far less effect on the pitch where even a deplorable attitude and disposition could be forgiven.

Fortunately for Rooney, his demons are slightly more productive than those currently bedevilling the insecure winger. The striker's subconscious fuel drives him around the pitch. To be fair, this sometimes brings him out of position. But he tracks back. He gets stuck-in. These qualities, though, in a forward, are overvalued and overemphasized when goals aren't plenty, and overlooked when they are rife!

Goals are of course the prime directive for a striker. And Wayne Rooney, despite being one of the better English footballers, and a top-20 striker in the world, probably has fallen short of perhaps slightly romantic hopes set upon his meaty shoulders as a young scouser; while the aforementioned Ronaldo certainly exceeded all in his last few seasons.

Many of Rooney's qualities are better suited to a midfielder. His ability to pass, his vision, tendencies towards grafting and getting stuck-in, willingness to run, an inability to beat defenders one-on-one, and his outspoken, fiery disposition all conduce to a midfield role.

His passion, still raw with youth, sometimes expressed immaturely, sometimes beneficially, like every other aspect of the world game, can be practiced and refined to create the utmost utility on the pitch. To justify it as being unyielding to growth or change—a character flaw—is merely the Englishman selling himself short.

''The desire to win makes me the player I am. Take that away and I would be totally different,'' he said after his brace against Slovakia. ''I do get frustrated at times but aggression has always been part of my game."

He is right and wrong on a few accounts here. Wayne Rooney made himself the player he is, and he should not be defined by destructive behavior, which he seems to confuse with the "desire to win", a desire all players share, but not all project through violence and "fack off" rage.

He is right, though, if you take it away, he would be totally different. But who's to say he won't be better? Aggression has always been a part of his game, and if he is happy with his current scoring rate, and his unfolding legacy, as is, then he may not want to curb it. Who would begrudge him, one of the most recognizable players in world football?

But it shouldn't be within a competitor's nature to acquiesce.

Of course, he has been fantastic for England this season, claiming the English player of the year award for his performances in the white shirt.

For Manchester United, however, his season has been again slightly checkered, with incidents of immaturity and sophomoric behavior marring matches throughout his average campaign.

Last season Tevez outplayed the Englishman, with some cynical sections of prevailing professional media asking if this was a make-or-break year for Rooney.

If it was, for United, he's yet to achieve an on-form consistency greater than two weeks at a time. He's still bagged some goals, inevitably, and he's definitely played vital roles in many matches, nonetheless.

It's hard to judge players who are great (or lingering slightly below). But, maybe carefully crafted words in print translate even to the ivory towers of our heroes, in hopes that they realize their full potential, instead of being content already achieving just a respectable majority of it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Unfortunately, there's only one Keano

Never before have Man United missed Roy Keane so much.

Whether berating a prawn sandwich culture, or throwing under-performing players publicly under the bus, the man Keane never hesitated to put the spotlights—and pressure—upon his own shoulders.

More importantly, beyond the brash outbursts was the most blue-collar of field workers. Keane led by sword and plowshare, demanding nothing of his peers that they could not expect of himself. He constantly interrogated his teammates egos and work ethic and no one could—or at least would—say he was a hypocrite.

Do as he did, not as he said, was the subtext to his whole persona.

But who can lead a disjointed United side with sheer force of will? Are there any players with the same demonstrative volition? Are there even any players on the current side capable of harnessing and controlling their anger, instead it controlling them—without being petulant?

Surely the last clause rules out Wayne Rooney.

Pundits had hoped to provide a prophecy for Wayne to fulfill this season, claiming that his days of charging about angrily were finally behind him. These notions have so far turned out to be mere fantasy.

There is no doubt his heart is in the cause, but too much so, and it is often further unhinged by a lack of reason and patience—and the absence of the role model like the fiery Irishman.

Ronaldo gets angry. But he's not very good at it. He whines and pouts, projecting and displacing, hating himself and blaming everyone else. He's much more part of the problem right now than he would be for any solution to his club's possibly fragile psyche.

Paul Scholes doesn't like him. Why would he? Scholes himself is the paragon for modesty and honesty in motion. He's not concerned about the spotlight or the women, nor the parties or acclaim. But the same virtues that make him a model person and professional preclude him from invoking personal demons which don't exist to exorcise those plaguing some players around him.

United don't just need a player to get angry. It's safe to assume they're all quite peeved at the moment. But who will assume the burden? Who will raise his chin and point it forward? Who can lead by example and stature?

Arguably the only player on the current side with a similar capacity to Keane for weighted anger and leadership, Gary Neville, the club captain, is a peripheral figure. Often injured and always aging, his voice from the bench doesn't carry to the pitch, not when the adrenaline and endorphins govern each player's instinctual actions.

Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs are often given the armband in Neville's absence. Unfortunately, neither have the make-up to inspire, or the gall and effrontery to unstick their chums.

Ferdinand yells superfluously, usually without force, usually without response. Players just don't fear him. Giggs is a quiet man and captains the side more from experience than effectiveness.

Nemanja Vidic emerges. The 27-year-old has the makings for a future captain. He's a gentle giant, really, except when he's flying head-first into Didier Drogba, smothering Kevin Davies, or snuffing out Samuel Eto'o.

But despite being United's player of the season—and a firm candidate for PFA Player of the Year—he may not be the answer right now. His own confidence seems frazzled, being outwitted by Gerrard and Torres, proven slightly bemused by Zlatan, and run a bit ragged by Martins in recent matches.

Carlos Tevez could be the answer. Who roars louder? Who exhales after each run-out with more veracity? Who's badge is placed more squarely over his heart than the Argentine terrorist, crunching and crashing about, demanding, earning, and reciprocating respect from and to all opponents?

On action alone, Tevez speaks the loudest. He never argues with a linesman, never complains to the referee or, more crucially, his teammates, and never dives. And he never gives up.

But maybe United need nothing more than a break, and that's one thing they do have.

The players have two weeks to distract themselves with other exploits and refocus.

The man who molded Roy Keane partly in his own likeness, Sir Alex Ferguson, has this break to plot and calculate the restoration of his side's confidence.

He has two weeks to exhume the cobwebs of self-doubt from the minds of his rattled players, and if he can't, you wonder who on the pitch might, should the first goal at Old Trafford in a fortnight's time be scored by the visitor.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cristiano Ronaldo needs to get squared away

Confidence is piercing: It attacks the disposition in those it encounters with a domineering force.

Arrogance is masochistic: It challenges those dispositions to return force in kind plus more. It demands unequal retribution. It bolsters the defending.

Ronaldo has none of the confidence he deserves and too much of the hubris that weighs him down.

Someone needs to reboot him.

His head is nowhere near the pitch. His attacking is indirect. His tantrums are ubiquitous. His emotions run completely unchecked.

Where he once out-smarted most defenders, most now out-muscle him, sending the winger whirling downward again into the whining spirals which mar his ever-declining reputation.

His free-kicks sail well off course. His runs to the byline are rare. The extempore cuts and shifts are gone, the sleight and trickery with them, replaced with forecast, boastful, and inconsequential step-overs before usually passing square or backwards.

John O’ Shea is in the side—presumably—to pass sideways. Ronaldo is not!

The club he led to glory last year needs at least half of his ability and at most half of the immaturity. Its fans, ever scrambling to doggedly defend the reprobate, deserve respite and reassurance. They deserve to see their hero on song, not his villainous alter-ego, always scowling and recalcitrant.

In the last several seasons, he played like a man who knew he'd be great. Then the world agreed and made him great, exalting him PFA Player of the Year, European Player of the Year, and World Player of the Year. But despite capturing all of world football’s individual awards to confirm his self-belief, he now seems somehow not to believe in himself anymore.

The weight of each opposing crowd booing and teasing him might be taking its toll. Maybe Messi or Ribery's form of late is what causes Ronaldo so much anxiety. Maybe he can't deal with the pressure of becoming the most recognizable player on the planet. Maybe he just wants people to like him more—who could blame him?

But after six months of his emotional treacle, can no one within the walls of Old Trafford encourage change in the 24-year-old? Can’t Alex Ferguson himself demand it? The Scot never shied from ego-management: Ince, Cantona, Hughes, Beckham—how is Ronaldo less deserving? Why is he immune?

A flying boot would affect him just the same. Ronaldo must’ve seized sizable leverage with his bi-yearly feigns at foraying into Spanish football, because Ferguson is hesitant to ever discipline the boy in his side who needs it the most.

Let Ronaldo watch a game from the stands like he used to when he actually played with some naivete and creativity. Give Tosic a run-out. Hell, give Nani a run-out. Make Ronaldo remember what it's like to just be a player again.

Perhaps Carlos Quieroz, former United number two and current Portugal manager, can speak with urgency in a language the winger will hear, understand, and adhere to.

Change for the winger Ronaldo is long overdue and must be swift before he completely undermines his stature in the world game that surely could not have peaked already?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Liverpool destroy United and may rue the day

Liverpool humiliated Man United 4-1 Saturday at Old Trafford in a statement victory that may sustain the Mersysiders' title ambitions: fact.

For United, losing soundly to their most fierce rivals at home couldn't have been better timed or circumstanced: thesis.

Yes, Manchester United were cruising.

They had just vanquished their manager's biggest rival in fellow European giant Inter Milan midweek to advance to the quarter-finals of the Uefa Champions League. They'd won the Carling Cup and were through to face Everton in the semi-final for the FA Cup.

In the top flight, their dominance throughout the last five months is well-documented: unbeaten since being similarly dominated at Ashburton Grove in November, keeping 14 clean sheets in the EPL through December into February.

So as the Red side in Manchester entered play Saturday against Liverpool—seven points ahead of their nemeses with two games in hand—the timing and context couldn't have been more perfect for a shocking upset.

Looking at the table, they could certainly afford it. Looking at individual player form, some could certainly use it.

The best player in England this season, Nemanja Vidic, has looked suspiciously shaken—at times—during a few of United's last matches: home to Liverpool here, Inter during midweek, and against Fulham ten days past.

Easily the most consistent and effective player for United this season, the Serbian was execrable against Liverpool. "Monster" was solely culpable for Torres' goal and was ultimately sent off for a shoddy professional foul on the Spaniard.

Vida will need to be focused and characteristically unforgiving during the run-out of this season for his club to unprecedentedly capture the three remaining trophies.

Both Vidic and lesser partner Rio Ferdinand enjoyed accomplished individual campaigns last season when Ronaldo rose above everyone to inspire United to the European double. The winger's form this year, though, has also plateaued far below his potential.

His lack of confidence is apparent each time he plays the simple side pass after a few perfunctory step-overs, where last season the Ballon d'Or winner simply drove past and through defenders without thinking or pausing. His problems are mental.

Elsewhere, Michael Carrick, who has been largely consistent and influential this season, has slept through a few games on end, and serviceable players last year like Anderson and Nani have yet to find the form this year to emulate their effect past.

Patrice Evra has also not lived up to the high standard he set last season. Since serving a three-match ban over the holidays, returning splendidly at home to Chelsea, and then missing two weeks with a leg injury, Evra has not been at the races since.

Carlos Tevez was more effective than an inconsistent Wayne Rooney last season. The Englishman entered this season with a mind to prove his world-class hype justified. He's yet to do it. His inconsistency is unrivaled by anyone on team. Rooney has a high ceiling but his form usually dwells far, far below it.

It's unlikely he'll admit to hating any future opponents.

There's no doubt United players will be devastated with this result and rightly so. It's the rebound to that emotion that can fuse the side together finally into the season's business end. United manager Alex Ferguson nailed it home: "At this club it’s always about how you respond. When you lose a game: respond. And that is what we will do.”

If United had breezed past Liverpool just as they breezed past so many opponents in the last several months, the reality check could very well have come on a stage Manchester couldn't afford.

But, being pummelled by their emotional rivals in the league—where United still lead by four points with a game in hand—brings stark reality and emotional checking far greater than merely dropping points against a lesser side home or away domestically and much less risk than sleep-walking over-confidently into a rampant European side.

Had the Mersey Reds nicked the victory, the psychological damage might not have been too severe, but, Liverpool might have just beaten Manchester United too severely Saturday.

Just as Rafael Benetiz' factual tirade against Ferguson in December helped launch United on their recent domineering run, his side's demolition of the Red Devils Saturday could very well be the impetus United need to continue their surge into history.

The victory that Liverpool reds will rely on as being the rebirth of their season could prove ironically to be the harbinger that refocuses their most ardent rivals from Manchester—clearly the better and deeper side this season—to trump them throughout England and Europe.