Saturday, July 13, 2024
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The Wayne Rooney Conundrum

Very few players in England have the clout and the reputation of Red Devils’ captain Wayne Rooney. The forward sits 9th on the list of all-time appearances for the club and 2nd on the list of all-time goal scorers. His reputation and legacy in Manchester United are set in stone, but it’s time for the captain to take a back seat.

The Red Devil’s best performance of the season so far, the demolition of champions Leicester, came in the absence of their captain. The quality of their attacking play was better and more incisive as they created more chances and had more shots on goal.

Wayne Rooney can play and do a decent job at various positions like a centre-forward, second striker and central midfield. However, Manchester United are one of the biggest football clubs, and they need quality players rather than decent options.

Most quality strikers these days excel in at least two of the following attributes; pace, technique, finishing and work rate.

The best strikers like Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez excel in all four. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, is just above average in the required traits.

With superior ball control, technique, finishing and hold up play, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best fit for Manchester United in the number nine position. Regarding physical attributes, even Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are arguably better centre-forward options than Rooney.

Very few top teams in the world football play with two strikers these days. In the few cases where it does work, one of the strikers is shunted out wide; like Cristiano Ronaldo or Thomas Muller and allowed to come in as the game develops.

The only team to achieve recent success playing with two strikers is Leicester City, and that was only made possible by the insane work rate of N’golo Kante and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester City have been convincingly beaten in games this season where Okazaki was left out of the starting XI.

Of all the positions Wayne Rooney could fit in on the pitch, the worst option is probably central midfield. Spraying passes across the pitch from a deep position is only one of the many requirements of a deep lying playmaker. Even Charlie Adam excelled at that.

Elite central midfielders generally have at least one of two attributes; incredible stamina or top-drawer technique. Wayne Rooney no longer has the engine of a proper box-to-box midfielder like Arturo Vidal or Marco Verratti. Neither is he as technically sound as the likes of Toni Kroos or Xabi Alonso.

Most clubs make tactical switches to ensure their biggest signings can thrive. Barcelona had to shunt the great Lionel Messi wide to fit in Luis Suarez. Paul Pogba’s best game in a Manchester United shirt came while Wayne Rooney was on the bench.

Paul Pogba shines brightest in a midfield three, or as the most advanced midfielder with two central midfielders behind him, freeing him of defensive duties.

His heat map in the game against Watford where he started with Rooney shows them both trying to play in the same space.

Wayne Rooney turns 31 in October. Pogba, at 23 years of age, is the future of the club.

After three consecutive seasons of mediocre football, Manchester United need to focus on the future, even if that means demoting captain and club legend to the bench.

Wazza needs to accept that the requirements of the club should supersede his own. After all, older and more experienced players were relegated to the bench for him when he made his breakthrough as an 18-year-old.

The same conundrum faces Wayne Rooney at the national team level, as attempts to shoehorn him into central midfield failed miserably at the recently concluded European Championships.

The new manager will need to make very bold decisions if he wants England a force to be reckoned with moving ahead.

Rooney is, however, still young enough to evolve his game enough to stay relevant. If credible sources are to be believed, he might only be an automatic selection for second-tier games like the Europa League and domestic cups.

In conclusion, Rooney’s ability to play in several positions should help him get games in various capacities. But the reality is that in the most critical of games, his automatic selection will no longer be guaranteed.

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