11 May 2013

Of two 27-year olds: Podolski and Rooney

There's been quite a bit of talk of Rooney leaving Man U, and just as much linking him with us. I'm not here to make any suggestions about its likelihood, only its desirability. At first blush, we would be mad to spurn a chance at signing one of football's most renowned attackers, especially at a time when we're looking to sharpen up our attack. With van Persie having all but taken over as top-dog at Man U, Rooney has appeared at times disengaged, marginalized, and out of sorts,and adding in the tensions between Rooney and Everton, we find ourselves entertaining serious talk of his departure (I won't delve into the the twitter account fiasco), whether it's to join PSG, us, or some other club.

No doubt about it, he's been one of the Prem's best for years now. He's at his best in a number of roles we need to sharpen up. Simply put, he has proven his ability to score and  to create chances for teammates to score. His numbers have dipped a bit this year from last year's 34 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions, making 16 in 34 seem a bit ho-hum, but a significant factor in that dip has been in the role he's been asked to play as van Persie has taken over the scoring load for Man U. However, even with this caveat, I'm not sure he's the man we need, at least not at the price we'd likely have to play. Depending on whom you ask, we might have to pay somewhere between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 to secure his services.

That's a princely sum, and it would take a sharper mind than mine (or at least one less-addled by wine at this point in my evening) to determine how much of that derives from reputation versus future performance. At 27, he certainly has several good years of football in him, but we should swallow hard and ask ourselves if this is the player we need. Without equating the two, we do have an attacking left midfielder in Lukas Podolski, also 27, who has managed to find enough time on the pitch this year to tally 13 goals and 10 assists despite playing a full 90' in only six of 29 appearances (all competitions). He's done this in his first season in the Prem while hobbling along with an ankle injury. Again, he's not in Rooney's class, certainly not the Rooney of the last five years, but I would again suggest that the Rooney of the next five years may not be worth the asking price. If Podolski comes back from surgery or whatever other treatment is needed on that ankle, we might find in him a more sprightly and reliable player who can get us between 15 and 20 goals. Signed for £11 million, he represents a huge value, almost five times more so than Rooney. They've scored the same number of goals, and Podolski's done it at a fraction of the price. Would Rooney make Podolski expendable? Perhaps. more pointedly, what kind of impact would his presence on the pitch have on Cazorla or Walcott? Would he bring out their best or shoulder them aside? Walcott has started to show signs of growth in his first season not deferring to a more-famous striker; I'm afraid he might regress with his more-senior countryman as a teammate.

Of course, Rooney could come back next year rejuvenated at a move that restores him to his club's #1 scoring option and go on to score 40 goals, and I'll have to call up each and every Gunner to apologize for convincing the board not to sign him. If he was available at £25m or £30m, I might be more tempted to say we should go for it. We're looking at something twice that, and it's a move that might preclude us from making many more.

Some of Arsène's harshest critics lambaste him for bargain-shopping and for being afraid to make high-profile, impact-signings, so I would hate for him to sign Rooney as an answer to those critics. Even for as iconic as Rooney is and as lethal as he can be, I worry that he would take up too much mental space. We have a squad of young, talented, and (for all appearances) squeaky-clean players. I know that athletes have their personal lives and side-interests, but I would not want someone with a past as salacious as Rooney's skulking around. No disrespect. For all I know, Carl Jenkinson has habits that puts Tiger Woods to shame. However, absent any splashy headlines, I'm going to go on believing he, among all of our players, escort little old ladies across the street and rescue kittens stuck in trees in their free time, and drink nothing stronger than kiddie cocktails at parties while getting tucked in no later than 9pm.

No, then, I'm not drooling at the prospect of seeing Rooney come aboard. Let's use that £50m or so on two or three younger, hungrier players rather than putting all of  our eggs in Rooney's basket.