An average season for Wayne Rooney so far?
With more pressing needs, such as tactics, team selections and an overall lack of cohesion in United’s play, Wayne Rooney has quite rightly slipped under the radar of many United fans over the last few months. Played out of position, the only realistic candidate to captain the side and unquestionable effort and desire week in week out in a United shirt are three major get out of jail cards in Rooney’s favour in what has been a pretty mundane season so far. But are these reasons enough to absolve Rooney of any blame or should we expect more from Manchester United’s captain?
Dealing with the issue of captaincy first, there were those fans – me included – who anticipated the appointment of Robin Van Persie as captain last August. An experienced captain from his Arsenal days and a close ally of Van Gaal, it seemed a logical choice to make and one that wouldn’t have been met with too much dissatisfaction. Van Persie had just come off the back of a successful World Cup campaign, in contrast to Rooney, who yet again had failed to deliver on the world stage. There is also a general consensus that Rooney and Van Persie don’t perform well as a pair and although it’s easy to pick Rooney now, if it was a straight choice between the two last summer the majority would have swayed towards the Dutchman. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and looking back you’d be hard pushed to find a United fan who didn’t accept that the appointment of Rooney was the right one. Van Persie has endured an inexplicably poor season so far at United and if fans are concerned by some of our play this season then the expectation would be that it would have been far worse with an underperforming leader.
So if Rooney is the right man to lead the team, how has he performed in the role? There’s definitely been some questionable moments, publicly berating a young Tyler Blackett in the Leicester game for a mistake Rooney had made wasn’t his finest hour and the sending off against West Ham was typical petulance that cannot be afforded to the figurehead of the team. However, if Van Gaal deserves time to mould his team then surely Rooney deserves time to come to terms with what is arguably the pinnacle of any footballers career? The Blackett incident was unsavoury but can easily be dismissed as frustration on Rooney’s part. As for the West Ham sending off, hopefully Rooney can learn from that incident so that it doesn’t happen again but remember a certain Mr Roy Keane? United’s most successful captain of all time was known to lose his cool throughout his entire career. The jury is still out on Rooney as a captain but as a work in progress he’s doing a fair if not decent job, which hasn’t been helped by the positions the manager has utilised him in.
Which brings us nicely on to Rooney’s performances this season. To be a successful captain it’s a given that you’ve got to be performing on the pitch. Think Vidic, the rock solid leader at the back, Robson, captain marvel from the midfield, or Cantona, the maestro conducting things from the attack. If a captain is to lead they must first perform. Too many times this season Rooney hasn’t performed. In his defence, there’s only been one or two bad performances and any player can be afforded that in a season. The worrying thing is the far too many average performances and severe lack of stand out games. David De Gea has consistently been United’s shining light this season, normally followed by a good defensive performance or a strong game from a Blind or Carrick. Rarely has an attacking player shone and that reflects badly on captain Rooney. Of course, Rooney has spent a number of games playing out of position and for this he should be commended. He hasn’t performed well as a midfielder but as captain of the side he’s took on the instruction from the manager and tried his best without making a fuss. We reappear at the root of the problem though, a captain must be performing well to lead. Playing Rooney in midfield blunts not only his ability to perform but also to lead.
The solution is to put Rooney where he’s most impactive, higher up the pitch. Rooney is simply not a midfielder. Or to clarify, Rooney is not a midfielder of the quality Manchester United require. Comparisons to Scholes are fantasy and whilst I’m sure Rooney could chisel out a career as a midfielder at lesser club such as Hull City or Aston Villa, why is Van Gaal trying to mould a 29 year old top class forward in his prime in to a mediocre midfielder? Not only that, why is he doing it to our captain and effectively blunting his performance and impact? The fact is Rooney is our best forward, he’s our captain and he should not only be the first name on the pitch it should also be an absolute priority that he’s played in his preferred position. Up there with the persistence with the destined to fail 532 formation and the ignoring of Herrera, the playing of Rooney in midfield is another Van Gaal stance that needs to change quickly. The result of this change will see Rooney back playing where he’s happiest, where he performs best and where he can do what he does naturally. This will release him from the burden of having to learn a new role as a player whilst also learning the trade as a captain.
The message is clear, let Rooney truly lead the team from the front. And as a footnote for those who spout myths of Rooney losing his legs and that a move in to midfield is natural to prolong his career? When has Rooney ever relied on explosive pace or skill to beat a man? Not for nearly a decade is the answer. The truth is there’s no requirement for Rooney to ever move away from the front line. As long as he wants to play football he’ll be a threat as a forward and if by some odd turn of events it’s Rooney himself who is driving this move to the midfield there’s a simple solution. Rooney is sold to Aston Villa and United go out and buy a top class midfielder who isn’t playing out of position for three hundred thousand a week.