Does Wayne Rooney still deserve a place in the Manchester United line-up?
With United spending on top quality players, does the Englishman still hold a place in a squad that is filled with talent?
Manchester United have been busy in the transfer market, acquiring talents like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailey and talks with Paul Pogba looking to be in the advanced stages, fans might question where Wayne Rooney would play.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all quality strikers, Wayne Rooney might find it difficult to break through. The story, however, would have been different if the Wayne Rooney in question was 5-6 years younger. Another problem would be the fact that there are many players available in the number 10 role including two costly acquisitions in Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Rooney’s playing positions
Wayne Rooney’s rise to the top started at an early age and started with him playing as a striker in the Premier League. With power, trickery and an eye for goal, he was tipped for greatness from the very start. Starting off at Everton, his eye for goal was remarkable, however, his temperament was evidently in need of fixing. Even after moving to Manchester United, he had a fire in his belly and youthful exuberance. Scoring a hat trick in his Champions League debut, he kick-started his Manchester United career in the best possible fashion.
As the years passed, Rooney slowly found himself lacking a little pace but, however, still had that keen striker’s instinct for goal. Forming an incredible attacking partnership with some of the best strikers in the world, with players like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Louis Saha, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and even Cristiano Ronaldo, he managed to ensure he was still the number one striker.
In recent times, however, Rooney has lost his pace but has shown that he can spray long balls from within the Manchester United half, much like another legend - Paul Scholes. He found himself preferring to make goals rather than score them which led to Sir Alex Fergusson giving him a chance as a number 10 - a playmaker. The role is, arguably, the best suited to Wayne Rooney, a player who’s lost the edge in being a poacher but still possesses the skills and technique to be a useful playmaker.
As recent as the last season, Louis van Gaal even deployed Wayne Rooney as a central midfielder – the logic behind it being that Rooney is a tireless player, who would run up and down the field, present both in defence as well as attack. This however also meant he was not a target man up front during counter attacks which further supports why Wayne Rooney is no longer a viable option as an out and out striker.
Wayne Rooney’s stats for Manchester United are nothing short of brilliant. He’s never gone a season at Manchester United scoring less than 10 goals and has been the go-to player for Manchester United on many occasions.
His career highest being 34 in 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons, from there on, he’s been a shadow of himself. Rooney was best seen playing in the number 10 position with Robin van Persie, both players feeding off each other. Robin van Persie was the perfect striker while Wayne Rooney the perfect provider. Feeding off the long and accurate balls provided by Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie played a vital role in Manchester United’s title win, in his very first season with the club.
Jose Mourinho might be hoping that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney can once again create a winning partnership and score a galore of goals. Wayne Rooney has also shown good link up play with fellow countryman Marcus Rashford and the young Frenchman, Anthony Martial.
Who are Rooney’s competitors?
As a striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford. The 2 players are top quality strikers, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic being a proven goal scorer and a perfect experienced target man, the thought of Wayne Rooney replacing him seems less likely. Marcus Rashford would ideally be best suited to be playing alongside the big Swede, quick and full of intelligence, he would easily benefit the most with such a partnership.
As a number 10: Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ideally provide the biggest threat to Wayne Rooney. Mata is more experienced in that position behind the striker, he’s got quick feet to deal with those tight congested areas and while he may not have the long ball ability like his captain, he definitely picks out the final ball more often than not. Henrikh Mkhitaryan while having just joined has had a stellar season with more than 20 assists and goals and would be eager to prove his worth.
As a midfielder: Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, United have several midfielders. With Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger entering the twilight years of their careers, Wayne Rooney might be the best replacement for them. He has been played as holding midfielder under Louis van Gaal over the second half of the 2015-16 season and has shown good form. A player who has no qualms about helping his team even in defending, he makes the perfect box to box midfielder.
With stats, competition, and even playing style considered, the deciding factor simply would be his ability as a leader. If you remove Wayne Rooney from the team, you remove a leader, a player with a fierce personality, a born winner and having the Manchester United DNA in him - Wayne Rooney is priceless as a leader.
His experience on the field and with the players keeps the team together. While he is most definitely a shadow of himself in terms of goal scoring, he has grown as a figure on the field and as a role model for the youth players off it. He’s become the face for Manchester United over the years and developed a large fan following.
For these reasons alone and them being supported by the fact that technically he is still a top player who has the ability to score and change games, Wayne Rooney fully deserves to have a place in the Manchester United team.