At 19:30 on 21st May 2016, Wayne Rooney must have felt on the top of world. Hours earlier, he lifted the FA Cup as captain for Manchester United after the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Rooney played well in a midfield role and dragged United back into the game following a mazy run before crossing beautifully for Juan Mata to tuck home the equaliser.
With Louis van Gaal on the way out and Euro 2016 on the horizon, Rooney must have felt that good times could well be returning following a very barren season in front of goal. From being moved from a number ten to a number nine to out wide, back again and then into midfield, Rooney must have felt that this deeper role would allow him more freedom to display his talents as he did in the final game of the English football season.
With Jose Mourinho’s suggestion that Rooney will play as a forward and England’s abysmal dismissal at the hands of Iceland – what does the future hold for United’s captain at Manchester United?
Jose Mourinho is a fan of Wayne Rooney, after all he tried to buy him in 2013. Although he never got to work with Rooney in a Chelsea shirt, he now gets the opportunity to coach the player as the manager of Manchester United. Mourinho has already spoken of his desire to play Rooney has a number ten, instead of midfield where Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson had deployed him last season:
“Maybe he is not a No 9 anymore but he will never, with me, be a No 6. He will never be 50 metres from the goal.
For me, he will be a No 9 or a No 10, or a number nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6, not even a No 8.”
Question surely answered? Rooney will be played as a forward – instead of a midfielder. However, with the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan combined with the emergence of Marcus Rashford, there is plenty of competition for forward spots. Mourinho will surely line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the money on Martial wide left, Mkhitaryan wide right, Ibrahimovic up top and Rooney in behind. This is obviously a blow to Jesse Lingard and Rashford who both broke into the first team last season to establish themselves as starters. However, that is the most likely line up when (providing everyone is fit) United take on Bournemouth on 14th August – but should Rooney be a first choice considering his scoring record of recent seasons?
Rooney’s powers are beginning to wane?
His powers appear to be waning as his most glorious moments of genius are confined to that of memory. The Newcastle volley in 2005, the bicycle kick against Manchester City in 2011 and even more recently, the goal from the half way line against West Ham United in 2014. These moments are sadly a rarity these days, with the Rooney of 2016 looking a very different outfit from the aggressive youngster that looked unplayable in his early United days. Of course, decline does set in for players, as the rigours of professional football takes its toll on all who playe the game – however, once upon a time Rooney looked as if he would surpass Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record with a Usain Bolt blast, but now looks as if it will be an Eric Pickles wheezy walk to the finish line.
Moving the genius moments, and there have been plenty, aside – his goalscoring exploits have been inconsistent over past few years. We can definitely points to the negative football deployed by Louis van Gaal last season, with the philosophy going badly wrong for the Dutchman – which was a considerable factor in Rooney notching up a mere 14 goals. Looking at the six seasons before that – Rooney was top goalscorer in 2009/10 and arguably at the peak of his powers, which was sadly brought to an abrupt end in the 2-1 defeat away at Bayern Munich. That season he hit 40 goals, which was then followed by 17 in 2010/11, 37 in 2011/12, 22 in 2012/13, 24 in 2013/14 and 23 in 2014/15.
Pre-2010 and Post-2010
That 2009/10 season was a massive campaign for Rooney, who was finally the main man at Old Trafford – following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. He was banging in goals left, right and centre and leaded the line brilliantly as the main striker. Rooney has always excelled as a number ten and although he played as a number 9 for Everton youth teams (and United that season), his vision and passing range has always suited the number ten role. It was what followed after the summer of 2010 that would change Rooney’s relationship with the club and with the United fans forever. The public show of dissatisfaction, flirtation with Manchester City and handing in of a transfer request shook the club to its core. Sir Alex Ferguson was excellent in his response to the situation and managed to keep his prized asset at the club with Rooney signing a contract extension. But it was never to be the same and it is relatively easy to split Rooney’s career into two parts – pre-summer 2010 and post-summer 2010.
Rooney has had problems both on and off the pitch since that summer in 2010. He was awful in South Africa, with England again relying on a player who was half fit, as he had been four years earlier in Germany having broken his metatarsal against Chelsea six weeks before the tournament. The abysmal performance, which has to be said – was consistent throughout the team, was a sorry end to what was a wonderful season at United. However, there were deeper issues at play, all coming to a head in the autumn of 2010 with allegations of unethical behaviour in his personal life. He was sent to Nike town to rehabilitate and didn’t play any football for the club until the 1-0 victory over Glasgow Rangers in the November of 2010 – scoring a late penalty. But what a fall from grace from a player who had the world at his feet six months earlier and he would never be the same player in many United fans eyes.
A return to greatness?
Who is to say that Rooney is incapable of returning to something near his level of four seasons ago? Mourinho has praised Rooney’s goalscoring ability and cited that this is the reason as to why he will be deployed as a forward, rather in a deeper role. Francesco Totti, Roma’s golden child, has been banging in goals throughout his career and won Europe’s Golden Boot in 2006/07 at the same age that Rooney is now. There is every chance the Rooney will relish playing under Jose Mourinho and alongside new signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, Rooney has always preferred to play with pace in front of him, which is why he linked up so well with Javier Hernandez in 2010/11 and why Ronaldo was such a beneficiary of Rooney’s vision. Ibrahimovic, who notched up 38 goals last season for PSG, is a powerful forward but will predominately be back to goal, rather than running in behind. Anthony Martial, who was easily United’s best performer last season, could well be the main beneficiary from Rooney’s more advanced “free” role – wide on the left.
The swashbuckling, Roy of the Rovers performances from Rooney are limited to the past – but his evolution as a player hasn’t ended just yet and although his days in midfield look to be quashed. He can still adapt as a number ten to ramp up his goal scoring exploits and become a pivotal figure for Manchester United yet again. Roy Keane’s career ended abruptly, with his last game trudging off against Liverpool in a bore 0-0 draw in 2005, whilst Ryan Giggs continued into his 40s. Keane’s midfield rampaging runs had taken their toll on a player who could hardly train and was toying with the move further back as a centre half in some matches, but at the age of 34 – Keane was done and the previous few seasons had seen a completely different player to that of the one that covered every blade of grass. Giggs on the other hand moved infield as either a number ten or a number six in the midfield, but could still operate in his natural position. Sometimes genetics play a major part in the conservation of fitness and although Giggs looked after his body, you feel he has a natural fitness, whereas Rooney has to work even harder to maintain a high level to be able to perform.
Square pegs in round holes
Wayne Rooney is a forward, always has been and should play there under Jose Mourinho next season. The consensus was that as he gets older and his pace declines – it would be sensible to move him back into midfield so that the team can still benefit from his vision. Some even compared it to how Paul Scholes would knock the ball about the pitch. Lets get one thing straight, Rooney is no Paul Scholes and for all the pinpoint accuracy of United’s number ten when executing a cross field pass – his ball retention in tight spaces is no match for what Scholes used to offer. Much was always made of Scholes’ tackling – which was rash, sometimes on purpose but shouldn’t detract from his positioning and discipline to operate in a centre midfield berth with two players. You would never play Rooney in a two man midfield, but Scholes did it for years and still banged in the goals.
Rooney’s inclusion in midfield is surely down to the rise of quality forwards around him. Against Tottenham at the start of last season, Rooney operated a number nine in woeful 1-0 victory. At the end of the season, he was in midfield following the emergence of Marcus Rashford. For the national team, both Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy were in top goalscoring form for their clubs – with Vardy’s goals powering little Leicester to the pinnacle. So Hodgson had a choice, as he couldn’t play Rooney as the main forward, to drop him or play him in centre of midfield. The same went for Louis van Gaal. Sam Allardyce’s comments regarding where he uses Wayne Rooney are interesting as he appears to be waiting to see how Mourinho deploys him before making any decision on his future for the national team.
Despite an impressive display against the worst team in the tournament – Russia – Rooney was part of what was the worst performance (including that of the 1-0 defeat to the USA in the 1950 World Cup) in English football history. In a game that needed leaders and characters on the pitch, England were sent packing and Rooney was substituted late on. The England captain did open the scoring, but his performance following that penalty conversion would surely have resulted in the wearing of the “I’ve had a Pally” – the shirt, named after former United centre half Gary Pallister, a United player would have to wear following a below par training session. He has stated that he wants to continue in the national team and be part of the team that compete to be able to travel to Russia in 2018 – but you would think he needs a very strong season to showcase that he still has what it takes to be considered an automatic first choice starter and a forward who will score you goals.
Hopefully we see a rejuvenated Wayne Rooney under the leadership of Mourinho. We know that Rooney is a slow starter, which again goes down to the need to work on his fitness, and will need a number of games to get match fit. However, following comments from the manager and the player himself, it looks as if Rooney will fit in as the main playmaker next season. Of course, Mourinho will look to rotate – but in the games that matter, I’d expect to see Rooney off Ibrahimovic, which is a big blow to Marcus Rashford – who has been exceptional up top. For the notion that van Gaal stifled Rooney’s creativity, he now has the perfect opportunity to show that was indeed the case under a new era at Old Trafford. Yes, Mourinho is also pragmatic in his approach – but Rooney has every chance to deliver in what is quite possibly his most important season post-summer 2010.