Wayne Rooney's world has been full of tweets from Glastonbury, hair transplants and tabloid photos of his wife and child lately. On the other side of the ocean however, his younger brother John is trying to carve out another successful footballing career for the Rooney family
It’s a cup-tie drawn at a goal a piece. On the turn of the sixty-fifth minute a cracking shot from just outside the box nestles in the back of the net. The crowd erupts into elation with one name on everybody’s lips and a familiar chant rings out of “Rooney, Rooney, Rooney!”
You’d be forgiven in thinking that this scene was set at Old Trafford but this is actually a whole ocean away at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. While Wayne enjoys his holidays and tweets his followers pictures of his family enjoying Glastonbury, the only Rooney in the spotlight in footballing terms at the moment is younger brother John.
Last Tuesday night John Rooney, the junior sibling of Manchester United’s now global star, opened his scoring account for the New York Red Bulls with a wonderful, match-winning strike. Rooney’s maiden goal completed a harrowing comeback from the Red Bulls as they defeated FC New York to advance to the fourth-round of the US Open Cup (the Yankee equivalent to the F.A. Cup).
Yet for all the glory of Rooney’s performance on that night, his inaugural season in MLS has been anything but spectacular. Picked up by the Red Bulls in the January 2011 MLS Superdraft, Rooney had only seen 27 minutes of first-team action prior to Tuesday’s match. Though he is a regular standout performer for the Red Bulls’ reserve team as a strong box-to-box midfielder, Rooney has found it difficult to break in to head coach Hans Backe’s preferred diamond midfield set-up within a loose 4-4-2 system.
However, those tactics are strongly tipped to change after this week’s release of attacking midfield star Dwayne De Rosario and consequent acquisition of Dax McCarty. McCarty is a more traditional central midfielder with a skill set more apt for a flat midfield four than the fluidity of a diamond. Such a change in formation bodes well for Rooney whose natural game would seem to dovetail with McCarty’s.
Backe has spoken glowingly of Rooney’s vision, intelligence and strength, however he has also stated that he needs to improve his pace and flexibility if he has designs on cracking the starting eleven on a regular basis. Of course when it comes to working on his pace, training next to the legendry Thierry Henry may well suit the progression of this former Macclesfield Town player just fine.
Off the pitch the boy from Croxteth has assimilated well to life across the river from the Big Apple. It’s a far cry from his old Merseyside surroundings where familial connections will forever define him. Here in the States, Rooney enjoys a low profile. Not a second glance as he blends seamlessly into a crowd. As he shares a small flat with two-teammates just a stone’s throw away from the Red Bulls’ training facilities at Montclair University, he’s learning the ropes of being a young man out on his own in the world. Although he’s settled well, he has admitted to missing his mum’s homemade meals back in Liverpool.
It seems Rooney has taken his cues from the script of history, journeying across the Atlantic to follow his dream and to build his own destiny away from his brother’s long shadow. Time is on the younger footballing Rooney’s side, at just twenty years old he can build a bright future in the MLS and maybe even beyond. With his gritty determination in a land of opportunity, there is a good chance Tuesday night’s chorus of “Best Rooney Ever” will regularly fill the hollows of Red Bull Arena for years to come.