Wayne Rooney’s career is hanging in the balance. After being benched at Old Trafford, interim England boss Gareth Southgate took the same decision in his second game in charge.
José Mourinho demoted his captain to the bench after a string of indifferent performances, and Rooney watched on as his team mates demolished Premier League champions Leicester. For some fans it was a heartfelt omission, but for a lot of others, it was a decision that couldn’t come soon enough.
Despite warming the bench for United, the England boss kept him as his captain against the Mediterranean minnows of Malta. Despite England easing to victory, Rooney soon found himself taking a seat behind his manager in Ljubljana. It was the beginning of the end… or was it?
Two and a half weeks after netting his first senior goal for Everton (in a game where he nutmegged the goalkeeper to score, twice) the Toffees hosted Arsenal. Wenger’s men hadn’t been beaten in 30 league games, and all that was about to change following the introduction of a certain stocky teenager.
With the game at 1–1, Rooney was introduced from David Moyes’ bench with 10 minutes remaining. After a few special moments on the ball, the clock ticked over the 90-minute mark and the man from Croxteth saw his chance. Four magical touches would down the Gunners.
Kevin Campbell made the run, but never got the pass. After scooping the ball of the air, a 360-degree spin and two more touches, Rooney found himself in space to shoot at an under-fire David Seaman. The rapturous strike flew past the England keeper and in off the bar.
As they say, the rest is history.
United come calling
Although Sir Alex’s United side were famed for producing their own youthful gems, the Scottish manager couldn’t turn down the chance to sign Rooney. At the time, £25.6million was a lot of money for an 18-year-old, but Ferguson knew what he was getting. He went on to score 17 goals in 43 games in his maiden season, equalling his Toffees tally in 34 less games.
A lot was of Rooney’s contract talks throughout the years. It was rumoured he handed in two transfer requests, although Ferguson later cleared up it was just the one. But still, with interest from Chelsea and arch-rivals Manchester City, the United faithful were not best pleased with the talk.
It’s something that hangs over him today. He’s now England’s record goalscorer, and is close to toppling Sir Bobby Charlton off the top of the United tree, but the disdain towards his inclusion in the starting 11 continues to build. Following Sir Alex’s retirement, the brief stint of David Moyes and a number of captain figures retiring or leaving the club, Rooney found himself with the armband.
Showing his age
This isn’t the first time Wayne Rooney critics have claimed he’s lost his legs. Under Louis van Gaal last season, the Englishman went two months without scoring for his club, and was subsequently dropped to the bench. After a few weeks on the sidelines, he came back to score five in four games, including a late winner at Anfield that he rifled past a flailing Simon Mignolet.
Speaking to the Mirror earlier this year, United centre-back Chris Smalling — who has been standing in as captain in Rooney’s latest absences — said a spell on the sidelines helped Rooney find his form again.
“I think it can refresh you and spur you on a bit more to prove to everyone just how good you are and people don’t forget that,” said the England centre-half. “It was a busy Christmas period, but since he missed that game, he’s come back in and he’s shown he is a top-class performer.
“I think given his career as a striker, you go through periods where you don’t score. But the best strikers are the ones who come back and get on another run and Wazza has shown that throughout his career.
“It’s good to see he’s back among the goals,” he added.
The question on everyone’s lips at the moment is whether or not he can find his form once again. The other one, of course, is Rooney’s best position if he is to work his way back in to the starting line up.
The striker has always been accustomed to coming deep, winning the ball back and firing those infamous diagonal across the width of the pitch. His attributes have led to him being favoured as a number 10 behind myriad strikers throughout his career — from Louis Saha to Carlos Tevez, Michael Owen to Dimitar Berbatov.
Under van Gaal, Rooney was often deployed as a deep-lying midfielder, and he put in a wealth of solid shifts that led to glimpses of United finally filling the void left by Paul Scholes. But his position as a “number 6 or number 8” were immediately disregarded upon Mourinho’s arrival, who reinforced his position as an attacking player.
But it’s the Portuguese manager who holds the key for Rooney’s revival. By all means it’s possible, but he might have to consider deploying the Englishman in a deeper role, especially if he’s to get the best out of world record signing Paul Pogba.
A lot of the Old Trafford faithful accused a number of managers of being obsequious in regards to Rooney, but there’s every chance he can flourish in central midfield. He has a partner who will do the running tirelessly in Ander Herrera, and will replace a number of unlikely suspects in Marouane Fellaini, an ageing Michael Carrick and a castaway Bastian Schweinsteiger.
It’s in your hands, Special One.