“You two are going to be my dogs, Zakkii (Ryou Akasaki) here, is going to be the watchdog, he’ll come help me out when we’re in trouble. And you, Bakkii (Daisuke Tsubaki), are going to be the stupid hound dog. Just keep running around with all your might as if you’re chasing after a rabbit.”
These were the instructions from an established player to 2 younger players on his 3-a-side team. Luigi Yoshida, aka Gino The Prince, was an accurate passer of the ball and he used the energy of these two players to display his superb range of passing in a training session. This mini-tale is taken from Giant Killing, a Japanese anime on football.
Now think of Bakkii as Carlos Tevez (“… keep running around with all your might as if you’re chasing a rabbit.”) and Wayne Rooney as Zakkii (“he’ll come help me out when we’re in trouble.”), then there’s only one related person arrogant enough to be Gino, The Prince and that’s definitely Cristiano Ronaldo. In the 2007-08 Season, Ronaldo led the Premier League goal scorers chart with 31 goals. At the same club, Wayne Rooney scored 12 goals while Carlos Tevez scored 14 that season. For anyone unfamiliar with the tactical set-up at the club, both Tevez and Rooney were strikers while Ronaldo was a winger. 2 strikers had a combined total of 26 goals while a winger scored 31 goals. On the surface, it looked like 2 half-decent strikers were eager to share the same field as an incredibly talented winger.
But any observer of Manchester United would have realised that the team was built, set-up and sent-out to suit the majestic talents of Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo had developed an unquenchable ambition to score goals. Tevez and Rooney on the other hand were the kind of forwards any poacher would love to play beside. They had super-human determination to work hard for the team and their team-mates while they were on the field. They loved to get immersed in the game while Ronaldo enjoyed going for the opposition goal. His runs were goal-bound, his energies were directed towards goal-scoring, his work-rate was frustrating but as soon as the opposition goal came beckoning, he became that unstoppable bulldozer defying all in his path to get his name on the scoresheet. And Sir Alex Ferguson took advantage of this unique set of players he had. He made Tevez and Rooney work for the side. Two superbly talented players in Rooney and Tevez became part of a team that carried Ronaldo. They were shunted wide right or left or dropped to ensure Ronaldo operated at maximum capacity, to ensure the efficiency of the machine was as close to 100% as possible.
Three Years on and has anything changed? Ronaldo is now at Real Madrid as Florentino Pérez continues with his mission to upstage Barcelona as the dominant force in Spain and Europe. Tevez is at Manchester City as Khaldoon Al Mubarak continues to spend his way to make Manchester City the dominant force in Manchester, England and Europe. Rooney remains at Manchester United. In terms of pooches and princes, has there been any change?
Ronaldo at Madrid
Is Gino still as dominant as he used to be in the goal scoring department? Yes. Since 2007/2008, he has gone on to score 18 (08/09 – Man Utd), 26 (09/10 – R. Madrid) and a record breaking 40 (10/11 – Real Madrid) in the La Liga. Does he still have his eager-to-please pooch brigade? No. At Real Madrid, the humility to be Ronaldo’s pet pooch is non-existent (Only Mourinho has people to do his bidding at this unique club!).
The gulf in talent between Real Madrid and other La Liga sides (probably most European sides) is exceedingly great. The coagulation of talented world class players is not replicated at any other club in world football other than Barcelona. And Barcelona is the operative word here. Barcelona may not have better players than Madrid but the chemistry and unity within the current Barcelona footballing set-up is unmatched by any other side in football today.
That leads us to another question, has the Madrid team carried Ronaldo? No. The team is exceptional enough to play out their football almost the whole 90 minutes and most other sides prefer to remain on the back foot against them leading to a situation where “it feels as if draws against Madrid (and Barcelona) have become the new defeats and narrow victories the new draws”. One trend continues, Ronaldo continues to outscore his teammates even though he still starts from out-wide. For 5 seasons since the 2006/2007, Ronaldo has been the top scorer at his club. The last teammate to outscore him was Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2005/2006 season – a player whose determination to score lies at the top of that pyramid if it exists. There is also a valid argument to be put forward that he wasn’t the goalscoring freak of an individual he is now. It’ll be interesting to see the player who breaks this trend. He might be the next in a line of goalscoring freaks of nature or CR7 might just have had an injury-wrecked season.
Tevez at Manchester City
At Manchester City, has Bakkii fared better? Yes. Tevez’s determination to play for the team has been previously noted. Leaving Manchester United for Manchester City was meant to signify the shifting powerbase in Manchester in the eyes of City. Tevez came in as a superstar to boost the quality at City and this he did. While Tevez’s loyalty to any club barring Boca Juniors can be questioned given his career pattern (he hasn’t spent more than 2 seasons at any club since leaving Boca Juniors in 2004), he always manages to keep the standard of his performances on the pitch high even when having one of his frequent problems with club management.
At the start of the 2010/11 season, Roberto Mancini made Tevez captain stripping Kolo Toure of the armband. Tevez’s ability to communicate in English is poor (causing difficulties in communicating with teammates and referees) but the armband was nevertheless deserved for his inspirational performances on the pitch. Tevez has become an integral part of Mancini’s 4-5-1, leading the line. He goes deep, wide, combines with the midfielders inside the team’s fine short-passing game and creates chances for himself and his teammates either by sheer physicality or his much under-appreciated skill/technique. His ability to lead by example on the pitch cannot be downplayed. His ability to grab games by the scruff of the neck and win them for his side over the last 2 seasons at Manchester City is not in doubt. By handing Tevez the armband, Mancini effectively tied his club’s fate to that of his captain. He is no more Bakkii, but a prince of Manchester, or to be specific, of the Sky Blue half.
The Loyal Pooch, Wayne Rooney
Remember, loyalty is relative. By the start of next season, Wayne Rooney will ring in his 8th season at Manchester United and is currently the only one remaining at the club of those 3 talented forwards. His loyalty to the club was questioned when he held the club to ransom, and effectively doubled his wage. Has he fared better since 07/08? Yes. After the 08/09 season after being Zakkii for 2 years, Rooney increased his penalty-box awareness by getting on the end of someone else’s crosses in Antonio Valencia. He scored 26 league goals, 10 better than his previous best though his overall contribution to the team in terms of build-up dropped considerably as he became that classic No 9 (leading a 4-5-1 system) using his physicality, economy of movement and new found heading ability to terrorize opposition penalty boxes. He scored NO goal from outside the box (an anomaly when one considers the type of player Rooney is) and contributed only 5 assists. The injury in March came and then the much publicized horror of the 2010 World Cup. The 2010/2011 season began but with Rooney failing to hit the heights of the previous campaign. He failed to dazzle whether as a deep forward or a line-leading forward.
As the year 2011 began, the emergence of Hernandez as a viable starting option leading the line coincided with the re-emergence of Rooney playing better when dropping deep (as seen in the 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn). These were unmistakable signs of the creator-finisher striking partnership developing between Rooney and Hernandez. Manchester United began playing a 4-4-1-1 in which Rooney blossomed. He became a director with freedom. The impressive workrate and immense physical strength still remained. The joy of being involved in the team’s play saw him take control of games and drive the side to victory in the final months of the 2010/2011 season which saw Manchester United win their 19th top English division title and play Barcelona in the Champions League final. On the night at Wembley, Manchester United was 2nd best and lost the game against Barcelona but Rooney came out of the game with his reputation intact. After the years of being Gino’s “watchdog”, Rooney has enjoyed 2 seasons of being the team’s focus. He spent the 09/10 season with the team playing for him then the second half of the 2010/11 carrying the team. Now back to what he does best (playing lots of football), Rooney can now be considered a prince in his own right. His 11 goals and 11 assists this season (even though he has played well for half a season) are statistical proof of that. Manchester United fans can only salivate at the prospect of him replicating this kind of form over most of next season.
Gino no longer has the privilege of treating the other two as loyal minions. Since they parted ways, they have won the same number of club trophies – 1. They are now princes in their own right. But perhaps, Cristiano can still consider himself as operating at a higher level because, truth be told, Ronaldo has no equals and only one boss – the true king of world football today, Lionel Andrés Messi.
– Uanhoro James