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On Rooney's omission against Real Madrid

Pre-game, almost all the spotlight was on Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford. Whatever was left of the spotlight was on Giggs’ 1000th senior appearance. Hardly a glance was thrown Rooney’s way. Of course he would start. It was a no-brainer. Or so most thought. Sir Alex, however, thought otherwise. The biggest surprise in the starting line ups of the two teams, one that sent shockwaves through even Jose Mourinho, one would expect, was the glaring omission of a certain number 10 from United’s starting line up.

Manchester United v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

In hindsight, one can so easily say that if Rooney had started, Nani would not have and this meant that Nani would never have been sent off which meant that United would’ve been 11 on 11 and they would’ve gone through. Then again, if Nani were not there, there would have been no cross leading to the Ramos own goal. Ifs and buts.

On the face of it, Sir Alex was quite clear. Rooney’s relegation to the bench was purely tactical. United, though the home team, were going to go for containment. They were going to pack the midfield and starve Real of any room, and when they did get the ball, were going to go direct and fast. For this, they needed the raw pace of Welbeck and indeed his tracking back. Also, for the lightning counters, they needed Nani’s pace and trickery. Simple.

Then again, dropping Rooney is never that simple, isn’t it? There always has to be a subtext to it. If one winds the clock back about 10 years, the situation of last night mirrored the situation of that night. An Englishman for an Englishman. Only, number 10 for a number 7.

While one can readily see the comparisons and the drawing of the comparisons to the night mentioned, the circumstances are not really the same. For one, Rooney has really been off and on this season. Injuries and illness have taken their toll on the United forward. Every time that he has gotten a good run in the team, he seems to have been halted by something or the other. It has been a jerky season.

His understanding with van Persie has been telepathic, and when it has come off, it has been glorious. However, with the arrival of van Persie, Rooney has been dropping deeper and deeper, playing as a  Trequartista more often than not.  When he has done this, he tends to drop deeper and  deeper to help link the play, but what that does is that it tends to take away some of the dynamism of his game.

If one observes a young Wayne Rooney, one would readily see a lad who’d pick the ball up and run at the defence. Now, however, he seems to have become a more refined and non-direct player. He looks to pick out team-mates more often, and wants to get on the ball all the time and dictate play. He has said it himself that as he grows older, he wants to emulate the likes of Paul Scholes and drop deeper and deeper. While in the long run this might lead to his longetivity a la Scholes and Giggs, for the present, one might not deem it entirely necessary.

Manchester United v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16Wayne Rooney has not really been about guile. Of course, he possesses a sufficient amount of it but he has always been characterized by power and industry. His willingness to put in a shift for the team has really led to his own downfall in some ways. Such is his eagerness just to play that he has most unselfishly agreed to play in any position that the game demands him to play in. In doing so, however, he has lost a certain degree of menace.

In many quarters, they are signalling the end of Rooney’s time at Old Trafford. Perhaps it is true. Perhaps not. From the looks of it, Wayne Rooney does seem central to Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans for this revamped team and this one game might quite simply be a blot on the landscape. It is time for Sir Alex to trust other players to come through and give a detail to Rooney to be a whole lot more direct. It might just help United for the rest of the season.

With Scholes unlikely to play beyond this season, or at the most the next, maybe Rooney is being primed for that role that the former England international has performed with distinction. Either way, Rooney is central to Sir Alex’s plan, in the eyes of this chronicler at least. Then again, as Sir Alex has often reiterated, no man is bigger than the football club. Is  Rooney indeed a part of Manchester United beyond this season? Only time will tell.

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