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Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Rooney's slump shows striker is far from the finished article


LONDON -- Ruud van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid there was a theory that the reason was because Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believed Louis Saha was a better partner for Wayne Rooney than the Dutchman.

Christopher Davies

As Saha goes from strength to strength, with praise from Ferguson after scoring the winner against Benfica on Tuesday, Rooney's goal drought continues. It may not yet be a personal crisis but given the standard he has set it is not far off.

For all his talent, reputation, earnings and star status Rooney is a long way from the finished article or world-class striker some claim he is. His failure to score against Benfica meant it is over two years since he last found the net in the Champions League and roughly the same time since he scored a competitive goal for England.

Since he joined United from Everton in August 2004 he has managed a strike ratio of one goal every five games against its main rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

The full stats are -- 11 Champions League ties since he scored a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahce in September 2004, no goals in his past 11 World Cup and European Championship games and three goals in 15 appearances against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

There are some mitigating circumstances.

He was not 100 percent fit at the 2006 World Cup after injury and the lone striker role did not suit him.

The three-game ban imposed after a preseason red card in Amsterdam meant Rooney's early season sharpness was missing and he is concerned about his sluggish start to the season.

"I am disappointed with my own form in the last two games," he said, though most believe more games should be taken into consideration. "It has not been up to the standard I normally play. I am disappointed with that but I will keep working hard and hopefully my game will come back again."

To add to Rooney's problems his former Everton manager David Moyes may sue the player for remarks in his recent autobiography, the main one being that "Moyes forced me out."

It is also alleged -- and not denied -- that Rooney floored Blackburn defender Michael Gray with one punch in a restaurant earlier this month after a remark about the United striker's fiancee Coleen.

A spokesman for Rooney confirmed there was "a brief incident" but that "Wayne bears no ill will toward Michael."

Rooney is rarely far from a headline of this sort and his former teammate Roy Keane, now manager of Sunderland, said the England international had "achieved nothing" and that "the jury is still out" on whether he will be a top player.

Keane said: "He has potential but potential is one thing. Doing it is another. I judge a player over a few years not one or two."

JUDGED OVER the last six years, Andriy Shevchenko has been one of Europe's most prolific strikers. Only Raul of Real Madrid has scored more goals in the Champions League than the former AC Milan striker who regularly terrorized the best defenses in Europe in the Italian League.

Few blinked an eyelid when Chelsea paid £30 million ($56 million) for Sheva during the summer, but after six weeks of the English season it is looking like either the best or worst bit of transfer business of the year, depending on whether you are from Milan or not.

The Ukraine captain is 30 and was playing as well as ever last season. Given his age he would only have been a diminishing product for Milan, so £30 million was always going to be good business -- but not as good as it seems now.

Sheva has scored once for Chelsea, which is relying on Didier Drogba for strike-force goals, the Cote d'Ivoire international weighing in with seven so far.

His partner looks a forlorn figure, a little boy lost and a pale shadow of the striker who regularly topped the Italian goal chart.

Accepting it can take players time to adapt to a new culture, language and football style, but considering what he cost an immediate return on the investment is expected and Sheva's "shares" have dipped like a Wall Street crash.

It is whispered that owner Roman Abramovich -- the Russian speaking the same language as Shevchenko -- was the prime mover in bringing the player to Chelsea, but manager Jose Mourinho could not have been more supportive of the non-scoring striker. In fact, rarely can anyone so badly out of form have received such a vote of confidence.

"When he is not scoring goals he will always play in the next game," said Mourinho. "Until he scores he is in my lineup. There is no chance to be dropped. If it's two, three, four or five games he will play. He will play until he scores. I can say that to stop you asking the question."

THE JURY may be out on Wayne Rooney but it retuned long ago with its verdict on Arsene Wenger, who this week completes 10 years as manager of Arsenal. He is guilty of being one of the finest and most charismatic managers in world football.

Even his old adversary Roy Keane paid tribute and said: "He has done a brilliant job at Arsenal. I read something he said the other day which was that some people live off football and some people live for football.

"He clearly lives for the game, I'll give him that."

When Wenger arrived in London from Nagoya Grampus Eight he was virtually unknown in England. For a leading Premiership club to appoint a manager with such a low profile now would be unheard of.

He may not have been a household name, but Arsenal knew he would bring the house down.

Wenger, 57, has won the Premiership three times and lifted the F.A. Cup on four occasions.

Vice chairman David Dein, the man who was the power broker behind bringing Wenger from Japan, said the Frenchman has a job for life at Arsenal.

"We want him for the rest of his career," said Dein. "If he wanted to give up his tracksuit he'd be invaluable in the board room in a technical role."

As a wheeler and dealer in the transfer market, Wenger has spent £160 million, recouping £115 million -- a deficit of £55 million over 10 years is remarkable in comparison to some big clubs.

Chelsea may be dominating the Premiership but any style award goes to Team Wenger.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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