Who are ya Wayne?
Will the real Wayne Rooney please stand up? No really, it would be appreciated by the fans, your coach and teammates. We really aren’t quite sure what you are doing and this identity crisis is starting to effect the entire team. A team that last year prided itself on possession that was gloriously used to pass the ball backwards a lot. United have been anonymous for far to long and Rooney is (literally) at the center of it all.
Its feels like its been a long time since the Ferguson days (only 3 years!) and United have reached lows no supporter could have envisaged. The team that won the league in 2012–13 has been dismantled for the most part, with multiple new signings arriving and other players shipped out. And yet Wayne Rooney hangs on, having been a regular starter through three different coaching regimes. The reason for this— and really what made him so great in his heyday—was his ability to be a chameleon. He had pace, creativity and the ability to score goals all over the pitch. Rooney could do it all. Whatever the team needed offensively, he could provide. But what happens when your team has already met all of its offensive needs and each role has a provider who does it better? Well, maybe this happens:
Take a look at United’s roster and at each of Rooney’s possible positions, there is someone who does it better.
Master of None
Lets start with the 6 and 8 position. There is a choice of Fellani, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Pogba and Carrick. Why you would screen your defense with a forward, I have no idea. So no number 6 for Rooney. As an 8, you need to be defensively aware, calm on the ball, have an eye for a killer pass and be able to push the offense up the field, aka Pogba (debate rages here I know, but the Pogba positional debate is for another day). Rooney has no where near the pace and ball control of Pogba nor the ability to pick out passes that can cut though a defense. Any of Herrera, Pogba or Carrick can do that better. As Mourinho has already said (and already contradicted against Watford), Rooney is not a midfielder.
He might have been able to imitate a winger back when he was lightning fast but clearly can’t do that anymore. That leaves the 10 or the 9 spot. Mourinho favors Rooney in the 10, which is considered the creative force of the offense. Charged with feeding balls into the forward and wingers while generally buzzing about and being a constant creative/goal scoring threat. On paper, Rooney has the skills to do this. In actuality, he can’t seem to put it all together. He doesn’t think like a creative midfielder when looking for passes and positioning himself (because he is a forward) and he can’t push up field to score as he should be providing the passes to do just that(but he is a forward). The likes of Mata/Mkhitaryan are much better suited to fill the position and want to play there. Their pace and agility allow them to ping balls into all kinds of space or create space through shifty movement. Rooney seems uninterested or unable to do either.
Which leaves the 10 spot, the striker role that Rooney has occupied most of his career. Its his natural and best position. It is the only position he should be playing when on the field. Except Zlatan is Zlatan and playing nothing like the 35 year old he is while Martial and Rashford need to get more time up front when Zlatan is rested. It seems Rooney has nowhere to go.
What to do?
Yet he somehow continues to get shoehorned into the starting lineup. Both Mourinho and LVG have no problem cutting down star players (Di Maria, Frank Lampard, Mata) yet neither touched Rooney’s starting spot. It seems that now United have mirrored their skippers fortunes. Ask yourself a question: What kind of football do United play? I can think of multiple answers to that question. That is a problem. United have the ability to do so much that they never seem to settle on one thing. When you’re so talented you want to do it all. Sounds a lot like Rooney.
Throughout his career Rooney has been immensely beneficial for United. His ability to do so many different things well has given the team years of success. But that was yesterday (or yester-two-years-ago). Mourinho needs to take action. Rooney is not going to say no when Mourinho asks him to play as a central midfielder or attacking midfielder. As long as this continues, United will continue to lack identity just like their skipper. The sooner Rooney figures out he is a forward and stops trying to impersonate a midfielder, the sooner United can coalesce into an attacking unit that has definition in the center of the pitch, which is exactly what they need. After years of slipping into any role to fill weaknesses, it is now Rooney’s presence that is the greatest weakness of all.