Before Xmas I thought Didier Drogba was a ‘shoo-in’ as Footballer of the Year and he continues to play well. His goals at Molineux helped Chelsea stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League.
But I can’t help but feel that, on an individual level, Wayne Rooney has caught up with him on the back straight and is surging into the lead.
Rooney’s form is phenomenal at the moment. Even halfway across the world, I couldn’t believe how well he played at Arsenal and, back from my break, I’ve seen him up close twice in the last week. Certainly in Milan, if not quite on Merseyside, he was wonderful.
Sometimes the Manchester United manager is guilty of going over-the-top in some of the things he says but Sir Alex is entirely right to say that his ‘still young’ striker should now be considered in the same league as Kaka, Messi and Ronaldo i.e. as a potential ‘best player in the world’.
Mention of Ronaldo is especially highly relevant because, in the absence of the Portuguese, more of United’s burden has unquestionably fallen on Rooney’s shoulders. Yet he seems to be relishing the role and you can detect changes in his game, all for the good.
One of the things Sir Alex always said Rooney needed to improve on was the number of goals he scored. Well, so far, it’s 25 for the season.
Amazingly, his two in Milan were his first in the 2009-2010 Champions League. Given continued fitness, I think he’ll reach 40 or more.
The fact that the goals at San Siro were both headers is also significant. Rooney admits to being embarrassed by his previously poor return of headed goals but he’s rapidly making up for lost ground. The first was quite brilliantly executed.
Generally, we’re seeing much more of Rooney in the box. There’s far less of the foraging around the halfway line that wasted too much of his priceless energy. United, and England for that matter, need him bothering defenders in areas that hurt them.
It may be my imagination but I’m sure, too, that Rooney’s got quicker. He’s been having special sessions with United’s weights trainer, Mike Clegg. Milan’s aging players simply couldn’t cope with the electrifying pace that they were confronted with.
There are other reasons to cheer. I sense — the penny has finally dropped — a growing maturity.
Yes, he continues to attract yellow cards but he hasn’t been sent off since March. The aggression, so necessary in his game, is far more controlled these days.
And he’s showing leadership, not just in terms of what he demands of himself but of what he expects from his colleagues.
He and Darren Fletcher are huge pals. It didn’t stop him rollocking the Scot for a mistake in Milan.
I know you’ll say that he was, relatively speaking, quiet at Goodison but surely even the very best are excused the odd off day.
If anything, it emphasised how important Rooney is to United and his club will hope for a resumption of the norm against West Ham tomorrow night.
Reservations? Just one: that he doesn’t burn himself out before the season ends; on this form, Rooney will be priceless for England in South Africa.