The cracks began to show for Jose Mourinho and his men after Manchester United suffered their third defeat in a row against Watford. Echoes of Mourinho’s last season and Chelsea were being heard while Paul Pogba, United’s world record signing is being criticised from all corners. However, what stands out the most throughout all of this are the calls for club and England captain Wayne Rooney to be dropped. While Rooney remains a leader for the team and a talented player, his performances since Louis Van Gaal‘s time at United have come under heavy criticism especially in regards to where he functions best on the field. With all the heat he has come under and the roles we have seen him take up, one has to wonder if Rooney is more to blame for his awful form or it is the roles he is being asked to play at fault.
Throughout his years at Everton, Rooney was always seen and thought of as a versatile attacker. However, his strengths were best utilised when he was deployed centrally. Rooney has always been keen to play a supportive role at the benefit of the team and it was seen throughout majority of his United career and even now. During the periods where Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov were all the central figures in United’s attack, Rooney was willing to assume a subservient role despite his clear talents. Some would rank those talents as comparable to all the players listed which ensured he was a consistent starter for United and one player that consistently delivered on the biggest stage.
However, as the years rolled on and United grew weaker, especially in the midfield, Rooney being the type of player he is, saw himself drop further back into the middle of the park. Now while he could do the odd job there every now and then, it came as no surprise that his sustained stay in midfield coincided a significant fall off in form for the United captain. Rooney can pass, control, sometimes even dictate play and has needed to at times when United bought Robin Van Persie. The issue remains, in midfield no matter how well he can play there on occasions, it is not his best position and he is far from the best player in midfield if he’s still to be held at a world class standard.
If we fast forward to today, it is quite apparent that United did the requisite spending to plug all the gaps. Rooney needed to fill in their four years of despair before and during the acquisitions of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Morgan Schneiderlin and Marouane Fellaini all being capable players trusted by the current manager. There simply is no room for the United captain in the midfield if there is to be a true return of form for him. He must once again be trusted as the main goal outlet. The reality is, since becoming United’s main man, the best we have ever seen of Wayne Rooney came when he was utilised as a center forward. He was his most efficient and effective and almost always had a way to influence United’s game from that role. Admittedly a much more capable forward is currently leading the United front line and this may see Rooney benched as many have been calling for. Still, there can also be ways of using Rooney further forward as things used to be under United’s dominance which Mourinho needs to explore.
We saw Mourinho drop Rooney against Leicester City in order better benefit the flow of the midfield and the result was an emphatic one with a 4-1 win. The performance on that day may be indicative of the direction United may need to go in, a Rooney-less United team.
What we can establish is that he has had his best form in that position of center forward and with Pogba added to United’s midfield, Rooney hardly has a place there as a definite starter. This is especially true given his poor form, leaving a sensible alternative of utilising Rooney in his natural and original position as a forward as the most viable option going forward.
It will be difficult not only for the manager to leave his captain out of the squad but for him to also earn a starting place over the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Squad competition coupled with tactical variety can easily see the Englishman back into the United first eleven. It’s not going be an instant success nor will it be easy for him to rediscover his best form; but for the benefit of him career and for United’s talisman, playing further forward may be the best and only option left.