Premier League

Evaluating the pros and cons of Wayne Rooney as a football captain

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Ahh, Wayne Rooney, the newly-dubbed double captain of Manchester United and the England National Team. A few short games into his tenures, his ability to lead from the pitch is already being called into question. As per the norm, Twitter went wild with armchair criticism. His antics even drew the ire of the former X-Factor contestant, paragon of musical genius and Crystal Palace’s most reviled fan, Steve Brookstein.

Fear not, Wayne. I got your back bro.

Pros

Highly-Gifted Footballer

There is simply no doubting his innate qualities as a footballer. We’d all love to see more consistent performances in an England shirt (and thus show us he deserves his place), but his class remains permanent. Rooney has given us a lot of moments to savour, from his delightful chipped finished against Portsmouth in the 2007 FA Cup, to the overhead kick that put Manchester City in their place in 2011, all the way back to when his winning goal broke the streak of Arsenal’s Invincibles, firmly placing him on the map as one of England’s hottest prospects in years.

Being a gifted footballer helps those playing around you play better, as they often look to Rooney to provide a moment of magic capable of changing a game. His work ethic for a while was hard to rival, always running back in search of the ball, making tackles. His determination and ability rank him highly in terms of being captain material.

Experienced and passionate

A good captain at the top level needs passion and two kinds of experience: the experience of winning, and club loyalty. There is no denying that Rooney has passion for football in spades, but I’ll get onto that a little later. The guy gets criticised for running his mouth at his players and officials, but what kind of good captain doesn’t demand more for his teammates? That doesn’t fight for every throw in?

During his 10-year spell at The Red Devils, Rooney has won 13 trophies. Few players in the English game can claim the accolades Rooney has to his name. Some may question his loyalty, bringing up all the bumper contracts he has signed and his transfer requests, but at the end of the day, he’s the most experienced player they have in their ranks and he’s still there. If he really wanted to leave, he would have done a long time ago.

Addressing Certain Cons

Discipline

There seems to be some misconception when it comes to Wayne’s disciplinary record. He has six career red cards. Here’s a list of the current captains of last season’s top 10 Premier League clubs and where they rank when compared to Rooney. Oh, and Lee Cattermole is thrown in there for good measure. All figures are taken from premierleague.com

Someone is beating Cattermole in the red card stakes? The world I knew is gone.

Purely based on top flight club football, Jags is surely all of the haters’ choice for perfect captain, because he rarely gets booked or sent off. In Rooney’s case, it’s clear he gets a lot of yellow cards, probably because he likes to get stuck in, like Kevin Davies always used to. This thing about red cards though, it’s not founded when he’s wearing a red shirt. In this list, the likes of Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard rank lower than he does, with most of those reds likely coming at a time when they were captain.

His England record is pretty poor though. 3 reds in 97 England appearances is pretty bad, especially considering that two of them came for the stamp on Ricardo Carvalho at the 2006 World Cup and the kick on Miodrag Dzudovic against Montenegro in 2011. Hardly the actions of a captain, but again, we’ll come back to his ways in an England shirt later.

Outside of Football

A lot of people, including good old Brookstein above, often criticise Rooney for his public antics, such as that time he solicited sexual relations from two older women, one a mother of 6 and the other a grandmother. That was ten years ago. You want to talk about public image? Everyone was screaming for Steven Gerrard to be England captain all those years ago… the same Gerrard who gets into bar fights? This article claims Rooney isn’t “a John Terry“… the same John Terry who sleeps with people’s wives and racially abuses fellow players? Come off it. A lot of footballers are monumental assholes off the pitch, and have done stupid things; that doesn’t mean they can’t lead.

Legitimate Cons

“Falling into” United Captaincy and The Curious Case of England

While I do believe Wayne Rooney is the correct choice for the United captaincy, I also believe that he fell into it. If it’s not Rooney, who would it be? RVP? Carrick? Fletcher? Jones? They’re all too injury prone, and a captain should be a regular starter. All the other players available aren’t leadership material either. Being the only candidate for a job doesn’t make you the best candidate.

As for his England captaincy, I always felt like it should have been given to Gary Cahill. I’m old fashioned in the sense that I believe that the captain shouldn’t be an attacker. Defenders are natural leaders as they always have to marshal the back line (in England’s case, Gaz Caz), making them ideal captains. For England, other, better options were available. His disciplinary record and God awful performances in a white shirt in recent years makes me consider his position in the England squad, let alone as captain. If he wants to lead England, it’s time he started pumping in consistently world-class displays like we know he can.

The Media

Probably Rooney’s biggest obstacle is the media. Twitter gives regular people the freedom to publicly run their mouth from the safety of their own keyboard, and the two tweets above are but two examples of innumerous hate tweets for Rooney, from people who are supporters of United to those who just have an irrational hatred for him. These articles here are just examples of attacks on Rooney without looking at the facts and the statistics. Rooney has been poor this year? Well, he’s a striker, his job is to score. He’s scored at least double figures in every season in a United shirt, and has 3 in 6 this season. He’s capable of double figures for assists too, like we saw last season, a season where United finished 7th with Rooney’s form as their season’s sole positive.

Henry Winter calls it perfectly in this article. He’s being set up to fail by a media intent on tearing him apart for every mistake he makes, no matter how minor it may be. He hadn’t been sent off for three years. He has curbed his enthusiasm somewhat recently. He’s growing into the role and will have learned from his mistake, but people, in particular United fans, need to get off his back and let him do his job. Judge him, and the whole United/England squads, at the end of the season.

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How can we bring the shine back to the League Cup?

Last night, Crystal Palace lost in extra time of their Capital One Cup tie against Newcastle, thanks to a Paul Dummett goal. I found myself caring more about the fact we let Dummett win it for them and Emmanuel Riviere score twice than the fact that we find ourselves out of the cup yet again. Hey, it’s just the Pointless Massive Waste Of Mickey Mouse’s Time Because You Didn’t Quite Go The Distance In The FA Cup And You Need To Focus On The League Second-Tier Cup, right? It’s one less distraction in our fight for survival. But why? The last time we won a trophy was when we got promoted to the Premier League last year, and that was for winning the play-offs. In terms of major silverware, we’re looking at over two decades ago, when we won the 1991 Full Members Cup, a cup designed to be a temporary stop gap for English Clubs banned from European Competitions between 1985 and 1992, as a result of the Heysel Stadium Disaster.

My point is that the League Cup presents the best opportunity for more lowly Premier League sides, and Football League sides, to win a major piece of silverware. Our opponents, Newcastle, have maintained a “we don’t care about the cups” stance for a while now, having not advanced past the 4th round of a cup under Mike Ashley’s seven-year reign of terror. Their focus is on the Premier League. But why exactly? In their current state, it’s unlikely they would ever mount a challenge for a European place like they did in 2011-12. If it’s relegation they’re looking to avoid, you only have to look back to 2008-09 when they got relegated despite not advancing in cup competition. So really, they’re focusing on a Premier League they won’t realistically finish higher than 9th in, and more than likely won’t get relegated from. Now that they’ve beaten Palace, why not go for it? The fans have been pretty miserable for several years now, and a trophy would be something to cheer for, and something which would also grant them the European qualification they would get if they miraculously finished 5th or 6th in the League.

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So what can we do to make the cup more appealing? More prize money would be the most obvious and soulless answer to give. According to leaguecupodds.co.uk, prize money for winning the cup is £100,000, with £50,000 for runners-up and £25,000 for semi-finalists. On top of that there is some TV revenue for the lucky few. What exactly is financially appealing about going on a cup run in a cup with such poor financial return? The FA cup winners receive a more handsome £1.8m, with runners up raking in £900,000. A prize money figure that isn’t eighteen times less than the FA Cup would likely raise more interest from teams, especially considering that the competition ends in February, leaving the end of the season to focus on other cups or the League.

One idea that wouldn’t work is a restriction on the amount of changes a manager can make for a League Cup game. Taking power out of coaches hands totally undermines the good work they do, and while it encourages the use of more first team players, I’m against managers not being able to do their jobs properly. Not to mention, there will inevitably be ways around it.

The way I would do it would be to restructure the way European competition works. The other cup no one has any real interest in is the Europa League, and a simple way to make that more relevant is to increase the quality of opposition in the competition. This can be done by only allowing the champions of each country’s major league to compete in the Champions League, alongside the winners of the Europa League. Let’s face it, third or fourth place in your league does not make you a champion, and should not earn you the right to face champions. Winning a cup makes you a champion of something, which leads me to state my wish to see a return of the Cup Winners Cup, which would lie in between the two in terms of prestige. A new system would look like this:

Champions League: Champions of each top league in each European country.

Cup Winners Cup: Winners of each country’s major domestic cups.

Europa League: The runners up of each league, plus a few thirds and fourths from the major leagues.

Winning the Cup Winners Cup or Europa League would grant entry into the Champions League. This would add value to the League Cup and FA Cup as ones that give teams an indirect route to the Champions League, adding to their appeal. Every team dreams of Champions League football, and giving them opportunities to get there via two cups would be a great way to earn it, and regain lost interest in the trophy. The issue here is implementation: every country’s footballing body, UEFA, etc. would have to agree to it and it would take a while to implement. If Newcastle are that focused on the league just for the sake of European qualification, going through two cups could prove an easier route while collecting silverware on the way.

For fans, it’s a simple case of exposure. For years, the League Cup has been restricted to being televised on Sky Sports, which most people can’t afford. Putting more cup ties on freeview would increase interest among neutrals and die hard fans alike as the cup is made available to more people. Manager attitude is also a major issue. Everyone wants to win, but certain managers simply don’t care if they lose, and therefore don’t put enough on the line. Manchester United pretty much used their tie vs MK Dons as a youth team/reserves match. If they really wanted to win, they’d have put out a stronger team. I suppose you can’t really change someone’s opinion though.

There is no doubt extra incentive is needed, but in it’s current format, I’m still relieved to be out of the cup. We’ve seen Birmingham and Wigan win cups only to bow out of the Premier League the same season, and ultimately if a cup run decreases our chances of Premier League survival, and with no incentive, financial or footballing, to want a run, then no cup run is fine by me. Still, it’d be nice to see people care again, and it’d be great to see a new trophy in our relatively baron cabinet. But for that to happen, there needs to be more to fight for.

Refereeing standards must improve for the sake of football

Many of you know by now that referees generally grind my gears. Since I can remember, fans and viewers have been subject to normally at least one reprehensible decision a game, some minor like an incorrectly awarded throw-in, and some major, like what Mark Clattenburg did in the awesome spectacle that was Leicester City vs Manchester United.

Clattenburg

That match finished 5-3 to The Crisps and left United fans and staff scratching their heads as to how a 3-1 lead was thrown away in such a spectacular manner. Twitter erupted, fans and neutrals alike criticising the decision of the referee to award a penalty for Rafael’s challenge on Jamie Vardy, amongst a host of other decisions, including but not limited to Ritchie de Laet remaining on the pitch for a host of hard challenges on Angel di Maria.

If you haven’t seen it, take a quick look here.

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There’s three fundamental things wrong with this decision. One: it isn’t a penalty. There is barely any contact and Vardy has moved his body in front of Rafael before going down in a rather flimsy manner. Two: there is a foul about 6 seconds before the penalty is given. Vardy has shoulder tackled Rafael to the floor. It’s debatable whether it is a foul (I think Rafael needs to be stronger), but it’s worse than the penalty. Three: it’s the same kind of foul. Take a look again, and you’ll see the two incidents are very similar, both are shoulder to shoulder until Vardy twists his body for the penalty, except Vardy’s is much more forceful. As a referee, if you can’t recognise that those two incidents require at least identical punishment then you should perhaps identify a new vocation and focus on that.

He had a terrible game, but, as an intriguing segue, he is not a biased referee. A lot of United fans have been claiming that Clattenburg has biased against them, reciting recent red card/penalty statistics as their evidence. If he hates you then he must really deteste Tottenham Hotspur, because in games between the two sides in 2005 and 2010, it’s not like he was totally “biased” against Spurs or anything. Remember the Nani-Gomes free kick drama? Remember Roy Carroll dropping Pedro Mendes’ shot over the line only for it not to be given? Clearly you’ve all conveniently forgotten the decisions that have been given your way by Clattenburg that were wrong. In my eyes, he’s just an awful official who let’s occasions and personal grudges get to him far too often.

He has been embroiled in sagas relating to the racial abuse of Chelsea players, the critique he gave Adam Lallana with regards to his supposed new diving mannerisms, and he is a man who let his personal vices get in his way when sending off Craig Bellamy back in 2009. Who could forget the his deplorable performance in a 2007 Merseyside derby; a performance so bad he wasn’t appointed to officiate an Everton game for five years. And yet, he will walk out at St. Mary’s this weekend to referee Southampton vs QPR like he’s actually trusted to do his job properly.

It’s unfair just to pick out him though. Incidents involving beach balls, dives, and more have all marred games and it’s something referees can easily avoid by just making the right decision.

What can we do about this? Video technology is the primary solution. Quite obviously, some referee’s cannot be trusted to get all the major decisions right, and may also not be able to make a decision due to poor visibility, etc. Most premier league and Championship grounds have big screens in their ground for all the fans to see, so why not replay decisions on there? An even better solution would be to utilise a review system, much like the three challenges in tennis and DRS in cricket. That way, managers have to be careful with what they protest about. I would argue rather than three challenges to decisions, one would be sufficient, as to stop constant challenges and keep the game flowing. I also believe that a referees job can be made easier if players were booked for getting in their faces. Players influencing decisions is just as bad and ruin the outcome of matches. This goes as far as certain players quadruple barrel rolling after a challenge, legitimate or not, to try and get them booked/sent off. In my eyes, if you’ve rolled over screaming, you are unable to continue as a result of a serious injury, so any player doing it should be substituted or booked.

Perhaps most of all, referees need to be trained to do the right thing… as obvious as it sounds. By this I mean, instead of looking at a match as being Leicester vs Manchester United, it’s Team A vs Team B, and you are not to show any sort of bias towards a bigger/smaller club, or towards the home team, etc. This should form a big part of training. You can be the most technically gifted fireman in the world, but if you’re afraid of fire, you’re useless. Similarly, you can be the greatest referee in history based purely on attention to detail, but if you can’t pull off the big decision in a big match because the crowd and players get to you, you aren’t a good referee. They need to be made of steel mentally. You can always get better at spotting fouls, but the right mentality is something that you’re more often than not born with, and takes a long time to acquire otherwise.

Football should be about football. Replacing referees with technology eliminates all possibility of an error, but would ruin the ebb and flow of a game, so isn’t viable. Referees as a result need to get better at making key decisions. At the moment, football is a bit like professional wrestling: it’s all about the story and the drama. It shouldn’t be this way. It isn’t entertainment. It’s competitive sport. I should be writing about a brilliant performance by Leicester to overcome great odds, but instead a referee is the centre of attention.

Less drama, less controversy, more football please.