For a player who is primed to overtake Bobby Charlton as England’s all-time top goalscorer, it seems something of a footballing anomaly that Wayne Rooney has never finished a season as Premier League top scorer.
Yet the fact remains that the man who is just two international goals shy of this prestigious record – not to mention 185 Premier League goals, just two behind second-placed Andy Cole in the all-time Premier League charts – is yet to bag his first golden boot.
So could this be his season? His odds of 12/1, making him third favourite behind perennial injury doubts Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, suggest just that.
The truth is that, in his 11 years at Old Trafford, Rooney has been a victim of his own versatility and team ethic. Unlike other players who may sulk at being played out of position, Rooney has always put himself second to his team’s needs – even when burrowed deep in midfield. This season should see his patience rewarded.
Premier League Pedigree
As mentioned above, with 185 top flight goals, Rooney’s pedigree is not in question. His third goal this season will make him the most prolific Premier League striker after Alan Shearer, and he’s finished as United’s top marksman in six of his 11 seasons at the club.
Crucially, and somewhat unsurprisingly, his highest returns have come during seasons when he has played as the out-and-out front man, leading the line to the tune of 26 goals in 2009/10, and 27 goals in 2011/12.
While Javier Hernandez has returned to the club from his loan spell at Real Madrid, he and James Wilson aren’t of the calibre of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo or Robin Van Persie; the architects of Rooney’s previous seasons of strangulation.
New signing Memphis Depay is anticipated to sit in behind Rooney, so unless boss Louis Van Gaal makes a late foray into the transfer market, all the signs are pointing to a return to the very top of United’s attack for Rooney.
Allocated the number nine shirt, Depay’s willing runs and trickery should create the sort of space Rooney thrives on. The additions of World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin should offer a more expansive passing range, allowing Juan Mata to provide the more intricate work in between the lines.
If United’s striking department looks a little thin, then their creative hub has undoubtedly been bolstered. Both are key reasons that will give Rooney a rare chance to be selfish and grab the goals for his team this season.
Rooney certainly has a history of knocks, strains and breaks, but his injuries tend to be portrayed worse in print than they are in reality. And unlike some of his main rivals for the golden boot, his times spent with the physio are rarely the result of a recurring problem.
The facts are that last season he appeared 33 times (all of them starts) and in his 11 years at United he has a season average of 30 league appearances. Should he get that amount of games as his club’s leading man this season, the 12/1 looks increasingly like the value punt.