The Indispensable Rooney

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c)

It seems that being a footballer with the surname Rooney is enough in itself to attract criticism. Well, I think it’s about time for a little Rooney Love, because our Rooney is doing rather well for us, thank you very much.

Assuming he doesn’t suffer a first injury of the season, John Rooney will make his 200th career appearance next weekend, and this season must have been the most tumultuous of his career, even allowing for the fact that his varied experiences range from the National League to the MLS, alongside Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls.

You can often get the measure of a player by the way he responds to pressure, and situations don’t come much more pressurised than running the gauntlet of the Chester fans who once idolised him. Rooney’s heroics from a left-sided midfield position in the final games of last season, scoring 5 goals in 6 matches, kept Chester clear of the drop and, as their manager Jon McCarthy acknowledges, earned him the job on a permanent basis.

He stepped up to the plate last season on the big occasion, scoring a superb free kick past us, and last week he repaid the abuse he was getting from his former acolytes by putting us ahead and then earning a yellow card for celebrating like a maniac! Here is a man who is not frightened of the big occasion, I suspect.

Indeed, he put in his best performance for us last Saturday, but it was merely a continuation of the form he’s been showing since the transfer window opened. Dean Keates’ introduction of experienced, intelligent players has helped Rooney immeasurably. The strain has been removed from his shoulders, he has players with enough nous to see what he is doing and either reward his movement or make runs which he can pick out.

There are plenty of reasons for Rooney’s previous inconsistency. He’s been shifted around from one position to another, an inevitable consequence of Gary Mills’ constant tactical churn, and then Dean Keates’ necessary reshuffling of an inadequate squad as he sought to breathe life into it before the window opened.

Once it did, and Keates was able to make a series of judicious recruitments, things have looked more settled, both tactically and in terms of the quality on the pitch. Rooney no longer finds himself playing in a range of positions between defence and attack, and has settled into playing a crucial role on the side of the midfield diamond.

The Chester media team last week told me they were impressed by the clear sense that Rooney had been given a clear role in the side, having felt he tended to wander around with a lack of positional clarity when he was playing over the border. The compliment was astute, and reflects well on both player and manager.

Rooney may have had an erratic campaign, but even when he wasn’t hitting the heights he has been getting results more than any other player. He is our top scorer and his six assists are twice as much as our next best creator. Michael Proctor is the last player to have scored a higher proportion of Wrexham’s goals in a season, nine years ago.

Rooney’s eight goals also represent a natural progression in his career. His last two seasons were the most prolific of his career, with eleven and ten goals respectively. Thus far they are the only times he’s got to double figures in a campaign, but he ought to match the feat this season, and it’s encouraging to see him develop a level of consistency in this aspect of his game.

Let’s not forget that, despite his breadth of experience, he only turned 26 last December (on my Dad’s birthday, which shows an admirable commitment to paying respect to our longest-standing fans!) Rooney is still developing, and should be approaching his peak years. A goal scoring, creative midfielder is gold dust at any level, and it would seem that Rooney is maturing into exactly that. When Dean Keates looks to piece together his squad for next season, he’ll surely be at the heart of his plans, which is not something I necessarily would have thought a couple of months ago. Both men deserve a lot of credit for that.

Rooney scored the only goal at Borehamwood earlier this season in what would turn out to be Gary Mills’ last victory as Wrexham manager. He could therefore become our highest scorer in this fixture tomorrow, as we look to build on an uncannily regular pattern of results against The Wood.

We’ve played them three times, and each game has ended in a 1-0 victory. Last season Connor Jennings got the sole goal in both matches, striking from the penalty spot last March to give us a second half winner as we finally broke down the visitors’ stubborn defence. Perhaps his brother James might fancy maintaining the family tradition by hitting the winner to open his Wrexham account?

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