Say the name Wayne Rooney to a typical football fan, and you will provoke all sorts of reactions.

“Shrek.”

“Great.”

“Dumb.”

“Talent of a generation.”

“Undisciplined.”

“England’s best.”

“Overrated.”

“Greedy.”

The last comes mostly as a result of his seemlingly frequent contract negotiations, a story that is again in the news this week because… well, he’s negotiating a new contract.

Does Rooney deserve a monster new contract, likely to be the richest ever in England? How good has Rooney been, really?

Our mythbusting series is designed to cut through the hype and focus on statistical production to try and answer exactly that.

Before we embark on our journey through five years of Wayne, here’s something to keep in mind: During which of the last 4.5 seasons has Wayne Rooney been the best player in England?

Alright, let’s get started.

2009-10 – Roonaldo
182 shots, spread across 30 full games made for Rooney’s highest Shots per 90 in his career.  22 non-penalty goals coupled with 3 assists made for a scoring contribution of .82 per 90, an excellent total.

Rooney_0910_completed

Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you see some imperfections. Six shots a game is a lot, and it doesn’t look as though Rooney was fully comfortable with that load, because only putting 32% of those shots on target is dreadful.  It’s almost as if Rooney saw what his former Portguese teammate was doing at Real Madrid and decided to have a go at it himself.

Did you know that both of United’s best forwards were abysmal at shooting that season? It’s true – Dimitar Berbatov put just under 35% of his shots on target that same season. It’s weird for such elite players to be this bad at shooting across an entire season. It’s especially weird for it to be happening under a manager whose offense was the epitome of efficiency in the couple of seasons before he retired. Was Sir Alex Ferguson running the Villas-Boas system before it was cool? I suddenly want to go back and watch game film to find out. (Or look at shooting charts. Lovely, lovely shooting charts.)

Anyway, this is Rooney leading the line, acting as a mostly selfish goalscorer. Key Passes per 90 are still decent, and that throughball number is quite good, but aside from the goals, this season was really inefficient. You can vaguely picture an irritated Berbatov, making a run that never gets found as Rooney launches a shot from 23-yards out deep into the seats once or twice, before he stops doing that, lights up a Gauloises, and says, “Fuck it, Wayne. You can do it yourself.”

Didier Drogba was unequivocally the best scorer in the Premier League this season, and Chelsea won the title.

2010-11 – Turmoil
This was the season Rooney said he wanted to leave, not because of money, but because of “ambition.” (A line that’s become irritatingly familiar to Arsenal fans over the last eight years, but United are the richest club in the land.) Whether it was the ankle injury, or Sir Alex punishing Rooney by moving him out of position, or some other more esoteric reason, Rooney’s stats profile changed fairly dramatically.

Rooney_1011_complete

Goal conversion this year dropped all the way down to 11%, which is way below league average for a forward. It’s also the only time in the last five years where Rooney’s goalscoring looks pedestrian, all the way down at .32 non-penalty goals per 90.

In exchange, however, we now see creative Rooney at the fore. Assists per 90 went from 1 every 10 games in 09-10 to nearly 1 every 2. Key passes are up, throughballs are outstanding, while the rest of Rooney’s stats basically stayed the same. His overall scoring contribution went from .82 the year before to…  .76 this season. Nearly identical, but a big shift in composition.

United won the league this year by 9 points. Tevez and Berbatov technically lead the league in goals, but Robin van Persie was the best scorer in the league by far, with 16 goals non-penalty goals and 7 assists in 19.6 90’s and a monster scoring contribution of 1.17.

2011-12 – AGUUUUUEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!
Possibly Rooney’s best season as a pure center forward, the 26-year-old put together 5 shots a game, 45% shooting accuracy, and his best passing accuracy to date. The 27 goal number is inflated by 6 penalties, but 21 over a 31.5 game run is still a nice haul. Add in 4 assists and you get a scoring contribution of .8 per 90. (Rooney is eerily consistent on this front.)

Rooney_1112

Note, however, that assists and key passes are way down compared to the season prior, and also to Rooney’s career as a whole. There’s an interesting Dr. Shrekyl and Mr. Hyde dichotomy to Rooney’s performance in his middle seasons at Manchester United.

Regardless of how good Rooney actually was that year, the only thing anybody remembers from the entire season is Aguero’s incredible league winner in the 93rd minute of the final game, and the looks on United fans’ faces as they went from celebrating yet another league title to being pipped by their “noisy neighbors” at the very very death.

Robin van Persie won the golden boot at Arsenal that year, with a ridiculous 30 goals plus 9 assist season, and a scoring contribution of .99.

2012-13 – Tag Team
What happens when you take the best scorer in the Premier League and add him to the team that finished second in the league by the finest of margins?

United score absolute bucketloads of goals, Fergie walks out the door holding yet another Premier League title, and no one in the analytics community can tell you exactly how they did it. That, however, is a confusing story for another time, as we’re still here to talk about Wayne Rooney.

Rooney_1213_completed

Rooney “only” produced 11 non-penalty goals and 10 assists this season, but he also only played 22.4 90’s, meaning a 2012-13 that was filled with some injuries and more clashes with Sir Alex actually saw Rooney produce the best scoring contribution so far. .49 NPG plus .45 assist works out to .94 goals per 90 minutes on the pitch.

Shooting accuracy was down a bit, but still near 41%, which is acceptable, especially since Rooney played deeper this season. Key passes were back up, as were throughballs, and Rooney contributed more on the defensive end as well.

As mentioned above, United destroyed the rest of the league this year. Robin van Persie won another golden boot, but when you strip out penalties… the best scoring rate in the league belonged to Wayne.

2013-14 – Roomander in Chief
Hot on the heels of possibly his best season, and a year in which Rooney secretly lead the league in scoring, Rooney faced his toughest challenge: Playing in a team managed by David Moyes.

Rooney_1314_partial

Conversion rate is hovering close to 17% again, an excellent number. Shooting accuracy is good, and though shots are at the lowest rate in the five-season sample, Rooney is firing in goals at an identical rate to last year. Additionally, this is the best season he has had at setting up teammates, and this is despite the fact that he and van Persie haven’t actually played together that often. An assist rate of .56 is tremendous, and key passes floating around 2.5 makes Rooney one of the top 5 most creative players in the league.

It’s not just the offensive numbers that are up though – Rooney’s defensive contribution is the highest we have seen, and he’s completing 1.6 successful dribbles a game too, again the highest in the sample.

So Rooney’s scoring contribution is now 1.05, and likely the highest in his career. If Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, and Daniel Sturridge also weren’t playing completely out of their minds (and they totally are), Rooney would be an easy favourite to again lead the league in scoring rate. Instead, he’s 4th in a year where all sorts of guys have gone completely bananas.

What Have We Learned?
A lot of things I personally did not expect when I started digging in to the data.

  • I did not realize that Rooney lead the league in normalized scoring contribution last season.
  • Rooney is actually experiencing his best season in recent times across a large number of metrics this year.
  • Looking at the data, it’s fairly clear that Rooney’s best role is as a second striker or playmaker. His key pass numbers aren’t up there with Ozil or Silva, but they are high, and Rooney’s goalscoring still eclipses either of the playmaking maestros by some distance.
  • Rooney has only been the best scorer in one of the last 4.5 seasons, but he’s been close every single time. That sort of consistency in what is one of the toughest leagues in the world to score in, is damned impressive.

Does Rooney Deserve £300K/week?
There’s a loaded question. Does anyone, let alone any athlete, deserve £15M a year? That’s too philosophical to answer either way.

However, make no bones about it, Wayne Rooney is probably the best overall scorer the Premier League has seen in the last half decade (for what it’s worth, I actually think Fabregas had a chance at this if he’d stayed at Arsenal, but alas…). Additionally, while I would normally be worried about falling production in a 28-year-old forward, Rooney has two very important things working for him.

1)      His best role is as a more cerebral playmaker (I know, I know… the jokes write themselves), which means a marginal loss in pace or physical ability will not affect him as much as it would a speed striker.

2)      Even though people might not know it, at 28, he is currently experiencing his best season in recent times. Is it sustainable? Nobody really knows. However, even if this is the peak, a new 3- or 4-year deal at this point probably won’t smart too much in the last season of the deal unless Rooney has serious injury problems, something to this point he has completely avoided.

Conclusion: Wayne Rooney? Probably even better than you think.

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  • chuksi

    Hi!

    First comment here after reading the website for a long time and loving it.

    I think the reason why his scoring and assisting is so.. uneven is that he has played in different positions. Looking only at the goals scored and assists played since he came to United its been quite clear that he scores a lot when he plays as a striker or in a supporting position. Until 08-09 he never played upfront as the main man. First there was van Nistelrooy playing as the furthest man forward and after that for some years Ronaldo was the main man. In each of these seasons he got a lot of assists. Then after Ronaldo left he was the main man, playing more or less level with Berbatov in attack and scored a lot of goals. Then in the 10/11 season Chicharito came and had a brilliant season up top with Rooney playing clearly behind him(or Berbatov who was used as the furthest man forward) – that season he scored a lot less but created a lot more. Then in 11/12 Welbeck became the regular next to Rooney and they were both playing high up – Rooney scored a lot again. And last season even though there was a lot of talk of Rooney and RVP both dropping deep we could look at the positional charts and see that Rooney was clearly playing behind RVP – again less goals and more assists.

    Overall his contribution has been amazingly consistent throughout his career as you wrote. My take from all this is that he is about as effective as a striker as he is playing in the hole. As a striker his defensive discipline isn’t a big factor(which apparently was the reason why Fergie left him out of the Real game last season – at least according to Fergie) and isn’t a worry for the team but in the hole he is more involved in the build-up and he is damn good at that as well.

  • Geraint Morgan

    I have the feeling that rooney is the best second banana in world football. If he is the second best player on your team, you are getting pippen/early kobe production and you will win. The team is so much better off.
    but, you wont win things if he is your best player. And that includes england. Especially england.
    no matter if his stats improve when he is top dog (like say his year) .
    last year felt like the best example of his. No support, but with rvp they won.

    • tknutso

      I am picturing an England with Sturridge up front, Rooney as a second striker somewhere, and Raheem Sterling on the right? Wilshere, Carrick, Henderson as your midfield. This is a pretty good setup, actually.

      • Geraint Morgan

        Sterling? In 2016 with Carrick still ticking along?
        You know welbeck will be on the pitch don’t you?

        I know I used the word feel in my post, not cool on this site 🙂

        Sturridge and Rooney is exciting, I am excited to see what sort of player Henderson is going to turn into

      • David Marsden

        Haha Sterling? Liverpool fan much.

      • Luke

        You may well get your wish now Ted!

        Minus Carrick, of course.

  • scytheavatar

    Utd didn’t “score absolute bucketloads of goals” in 2012-2013, they scored 86 goals which is actually less than the 89 goals in 2011-2012. In reality buying Van Persie didn’t improve the team by much as he went through long dry spells last season and they only won the league by record margin due to how poor their opposition is.. A fact that was cruelly exposed after everyone massively improved the squad in the summer.

  • seb

    Great stuff. I still think the issue with Rooney, is how good he could have been. He really was Ronaldo’s equal back in the early days, but he never seemed able to get into that top 10 players in the world. Exactly why that is I don’t know. I would say fitness, desire and ability all played their part. The whole article, however begs the question as to how Moyes will play with Mata Rooney and RVP in the same team?

  • dzaden

    Awesome piece as always. I would really like to see something similar for Frank Lampard. His scoring is always impressive.

  • http://flipsix3fm.blogspot.com/ flipsix3 (@flipsix3_FM)

    Cracking read, as are all of your analytics pieces, thanks for sharing.

    I can’t help feeling that there are always (perhaps minor) factors that can’t be reflected in these sorts of metrics, specifically when looking at ‘shopping list’ type articles. How the player would fit in with other personalities at a proposed club etc etc, bu they make for fascinating reading nonetheless.

  • David Ackerman

    Even before looking at the stats I could tell you Rooney is one of the best creative/attacking players around. He literally guarantees high level assists, chance creation and goals each season. Not many players can offer the creative and scoring threat he can. Most players offer creativity or scoring and don’t excel in both.

    British fans criticise him for his faults, as they do with everyone and everything and ignore all his positives. He’s one of the most rounded attacking talents in European football, that’s not opinion, it’s fact.

  • David Ackerman

    Despite my last comments, I still pine for Euro 2004 Rooney, where he actually ran AT defences and you saw defenders literally shit themselves and panic. They couldn’t stop Rooney’s lethal combination of pace, strength and technical ability.

    This unique dribbling with strength was taken out of his game when he went to United and I think was a big mistake.

    Interesting to note his dribbling is up this season a bit now Moyes is managing him again, although during his time at United his initial burst of pace has gone.

  • Paul Patterson

    I would be interested to read an elaboration of your comment about the world of analytics not knowing how United won the league last year.

  • Jack

    They aren’t the stats you’d associate with ‘best Man U player of all time’ or ‘greatest England player’. It also looks like while he hasn’t been bad, he’s underperformed other forwards both at Man U and the rest of league. Or the number 10s when he’s played that position. It looks like his performance has been inflated by the quality of the midfields that have supported him. Would also be interesting to see how his stats compare when adjusted for the quality of opposition. We all know about his WC record, but how about opposition outside the eventual top six in the PL for each of the EPL

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  • Phil Coates

    It is very hard to measure individual achievements as some of the best footballers played for lower teams and didn’t enjoy the same number of opportunities that a Giggs, a Silva or an Ozil, alongside an array of top class team-mates, might produce for their team’s strikers. All of those talented strikers from Tommy Lawton to Sergio Aguero in my lifetime, including Rooney and Charlton, have delighted football fans for more than a century.