Full back was always the position in school where you would put the kid who wasn’t good enough to play in midfield or tall enough to play as a centre back, but the position has evolved so much in recent years.
A good wing back often becomes a key attacking outlet because they have space to push in to, so if they have the quality to come up with any kind of end product then it can elevate the performance of the entire team.
It’s fair to suggest that most fans either wouldn’t have been aware of Shaun Rooney until recently or they wouldn’t see him as a great player, but that’s changed so much in the past few weeks.
Football often throws up little quirks, and you genuinely have to wonder if Rooney would have gained the national attention in Scotland or if St Johnstone would be Betfred Cup winners if Millwall hadn’t recalled Danny McNamara in January.
Rooney was actually signed up before Tommy Wright left last summer and Callum Davidson clearly preferred McNamara after working with him at Millwall, so the Irishman was the first choice until he was recalled.
That gave Rooney the chance to finally play, and he hasn’t looked back since.
He scored key goals in the quarter and semi finals of the Betfred Cup before scoring the winner against Livingston on Sunday, so it’s reached a point where he may have outgrown St Johnstone in the space of a few weeks.
What kind of player is Shaun Rooney?
At his best Rooney is a marauding wing back who’s completely unplayable. He 6″3 and an absolute weapon in the air so he’ll create a mismatch against a shorter full back, but he’s also fast and a strong dribbler so he’s usually going to find some kind of advantage against any team in the Scottish Premiership.
In a weird way his job isn’t necessarily to defend even through he plays as a wing back, with Saints deploying three centre backs it allows him to bomb forward and create an overlap on the right hand side.
He’s dominant in both boxes from set-pieces but he’s demonstrated he can get powerful headers on target so he has to be considered as a goal threat, while he runs with such pace and power that he easily overwhelms a retreating defender so they either have to let him go or concede a foul.
He shows an incredible level of fitness and desire to keep pushing forward – he was the player carrying the ball towards the Livingston box when the final whistle went on Sunday, so he’s proving he can be relied upon for the full 90 minutes too.
Defensively he wins his aerial battles as you would expect but he’s rarely left in a position where he’s forced to sit in and defend, so it’s hard to gauge how strong he is in the defensive phase from open play.
What could come next?
In a way it does feel like a ridiculous suggestion, but Scotland still haven’t nailed down an undisputed starter at right back, so you have to wonder if there’s an outside chance of him getting called up.
It does feel like a very un-Steve Clark like move, but Rooney is currently outperforming Stephen O’Donnell, Kieran Tierney doesn’t play well at right back so that’s not an option and it’s not like Liam Palmer is an automatic starter either.
It would be a colossal step up for Rooney but Scotland do play a similar system to St Johnstone in terms of a back three/five, and Rooney could provide an x-factor with his ability to bomb forward and to dominate from set-pieces.
St Johnstone players are usually overlooked for Scotland (Ali McCann had to switch nationality and has impressed for Northern Ireland’s senior setup) but there are fixtures coming up at the end of this month so it will be interesting to see if he’s linked with a call up.
In terms of his club career it’s always going to come down to potential interest, but it absolutely makes sense for him to seek a big move when he’s playing well and his stock is at an all-time high.
He is contracted to St Johnstone until the summer of 2022 so a fee would be required, but Saints are a selling club and it’s easy to see them agreeing to a sale if a reasonable offer comes in.
It’s well known that Rooney is a Celtic fan and they need at least one more right back ahead of next season, so there could even be a chance to play for his boyhood heroes.
He has shown enough to suggest he could step up to a higher level, although a straight leap to the English Premier League would be far too much at this stage.
It will all depend on finding a club who are willing to utilise his talents rather than trying to turn him into a more defensive minded right back in a back four, but you could easily see him excelling with Celtic or a middling English Championship side.
There are comparisons to be made with Callum Patterson due to his goalscoring ability from right back and he’s been a regular down south and in the Scotland squad, so Rooney could easily forge a similar level career.