This morning Paul Scholes broke rank somewhat by giving his opinion on Wayne Rooney’s mentality, training ethic, and somewhat logically, his unsuitability to play center forward for the remainder of his career. It has long been mooted that Rooney would into a deeper tactical position as the years progress, an dit isn’t beyond possibility to see Rooney played as an attacking midfielder/schemer/roamer type once into his 30’s.

I’d link you to the article Scholes wrote (ha) but search for “Nicklas Bendtner arse” and you’ll find it easily enough from there.

See:

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Scholes Quotes:

Wayne was in the Everton team at 16 years of age, in 2003. Since then he’s played at Euro 2004, two World Cups, Premier League, and Champions League every year at United. There’s a chance he’s worn out. Wayne’s peak may have been a lot younger than what we’d expect of footballers traditionally. Age 28 or 29 has been the normal ‘peak’. With Wayne, it could have been when he scored 27 league goals in 2011/2012 when he was 26.

Pretty juicy. Scholes continues:

Wayne might be a player who’d retire come 31 or 32, given the amount of football he’s played. Ryan Giggs has been on the go for ages, but he adjusted his position. Can Wayne do the same?I don’t think Wayne will be able to play centre forward until he’s 34 or 35. But he could play centre midfield, possibly, into his mid-thirties.

In short, Scholes thinks that Rooney may well have peaked in 11/12; that he may have a lower age peak than other players due to miles on the clock; and that Rooney can’t play center forward until he’s 34 or 35. I’m not in huge disagreement with points 2 and 3, and if Rooney is still playing center forward at 35 it will be because he has followed the Martin petrov route.

I was thinking over some of the points made in Scholes’ article, specifically: has Rooney peaked and what does Rooney’s career arc look like?

A quick search later and I stumbled on earlier StatsBomb work from Ted which looked at Rooney’s most recent 5 seasons using detailed stats. You should check it out, there’s radars and all! What I wanted to do was look at the entirety of Rooney’s pro career (12 seasons) and to be able to do this we have to abandon some of the more detailed stats featured in the radar piece. Why? Well, the football stats dark age ended in 2008-09 and from that point onward we began to have access to more detailed game stats like accurate shots on target info, key passes, giveaways, takeaways etc. etc.

I don’t want to repeat previous work so what I decided to was take Rooney’s basic info from all 12 seasons of his pro career including the Everton days. All numbers are from the Premier League only.

Stats we can examine:

  • Percentage of minutes played.
  • Goals p90
  • Assists p90
  • Scoring Contribution p90
  • Shots p90
  • Conversion%

Six categories which will be broken down by age during the relevant season. I’ll also include a rolling average of his performance throughout his career.

Percentage Of Minutes Played

 

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Rooney’s career average sits around 70% of minutes played which, for a player with that many miles on the clock, is pretty impressive. Pretty durable player, alright.

Goals p90

Penalties, penalty shots are, and always have been, stripped out.

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Remember Scholes’ quote about Rooney having peaked in 11/12 (26 yo season)? Was Scholes fooled by Rooney’s excellent goalscoring in 11/12 and thus concluded that “peak” must have arrived in the season he scored the most goals, ignoring Rooney’s general contribution as a forward?

Scholes obviously watched Rooney up close and may have been able to detect subtle changes in Rooney’s game and where he may have declined over the years, but 11/12 looks like a spike in performance (as does 09/10) due to shot volume or conversion% or tactical usage and not the start of some terminal decline.

Despite varying quality of teammates this chart is actualy quite clean: growth in the early part of his career, 2 years of overperformance, one year of underperformance and pretty consistent numbers apart from those over/under seasons.

Assists p90

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Remember how I mentioned usage when talking of Rooney’s goals p90 numbers. Check his 24 to 26 year old seasons out:

Age 24

Goals p90 0.73 Assists p90 0.10

Age 25

Goals p90 0.32 Assists p90 0.45

Age 26

Goals p90 0.67 Assists p90 0.13

I could be wrong but that looks like tactical usage. In general assist rates for Rooney’s career are all over the place.

Scoring Contribution p90

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Once we add Goals p90 and Assists p90 we see can clearly see Rooney’s consistent contribution as a forward. Scholes may well believe Rooney peaked in 11/12 (age 26) but age 22 and age 27 stand out above all others.

At age 22 Rooney posted an excellent scoring contribution number and part of this was due to operating in close proximity to the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo. That was the year that Ronaldo scored 31(27) league goals (5.76 shots p90, 0.88 Goals p90). Ronaldo draws teammates into his orbit of excellence and thus they post better numbers.

All told, since Rooney’s peak, at least according to Scholes, the England forward has posted 2 of the best 3 Premier League seasons of his career in terms of scoring contribution p90 minutes. The rate stats don’t lie although it is important to factor in the percent of minutes Rooney has played in each season.

Shots p90

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Rooney has always posted pretty good shot volume, even in his 17 and 18 yo seasons (he was really something at that age), but three of the last four seasons of shot volume have fallen below Rooney’s career average. Not entirely sure why that has happened:

  • Declining team talent level?
  • Different tactical usage?
  • Different team tactics?
  • Decline in his own game?

The first 3 points have merit, hell even the fourth one may have merit but Rooney’s contribution numbers have held steady despite his shot rate declining.

Conversion%

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Part of the reason Rooney’s Goals p90 numbers have remained strong despite below average shots generation is due to the graph above. Rooney’s conversion % has been on an upward trend (bar a couple of down years) for the players entire career. It is possible that Rooney has become a better shooter as he has grown older, or that he has learned how to shoot from better positions on the field. It is also possible that tactics were geared towards getting Rooney into the best scoring positions possible.

It is certainly a curious trend, though.

Conclusion

Rooney has been an excellent footballer throughout his career and we don’t need to waste too much time arguing otherwise. Has he become as good as hoped? Maybe not, but he is a player who contributes in terms of goals and assists at a very good level despite the changeable quality of teammate over the years.

As for Scholes’ theory that Rooney may have peaked in 11/12 (26), well, I’m not so sure.

It is easy to see why Scholes may have come to that conclusion: Rooney played the most number of minutes of his career and as the main striker. He scored a ton, had his 3rd best shot volume season while posting the 2nd best conversion%. It is easy to see why such a season is held up as the last of Rooney’s peak. Instead, it should be held up as an outlier season. A season of splendid achievement created by tactical usage, excellent health and a spike in both shot volume and accuracy.

It likely wasn’t Rooney’s peak from which he has now regressed. It’s just that since that season Rooney’s role has changed (he’s assisting more goals), the quality of teammate and tactics may have changed, but still the player has posted 2 of his best 3 seasons of scoring contribution since he “peaked”.

Rooney has been mighty good since 11/12, but he’s been mighty good in a slightly different, more all-round way.

Career

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  • dearieme

    He seems to me to be erratic. In his bad spells he can scarcely even control the ball. In his good spells he finds excellent positions in the box and pops in the goals. The criticism of him is, I suspect, motivated by two thoughts. (i) He’s let England down in tournaments. (i) He’s not as good as he’s cracked up to be by the media. If he were a Dutchman, say, playing in the EPL he’d be known as a fine player but we’d hear none of the “world class” rubbish.

  • Wojtek

    Great article. I’m not sure how the assist data works but there must be some kind of filtering possible on it. Whether it’s from a set play or not for example. He could have been taking fewer set pieces while providing a consistent level of creativity from open play.

  • Simon f.

    Very interesting read. I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a correlation between hair loss/gain and performance, particularly between the ages 24 and 27. Surely the loss of hair would contribute to his aerodynamics, while at the same time negatively effecting his levels of confidence? I’d be most interested in seeing the number of goals scored by headers during this interval, perhaps a comparison of goals scored before and after hair follicle rejuvenation.