Wayne Rooney: Manchester United has-been or easy Old Trafford scapegoat?
Lee Gormley | September 22, 2016
Wayne Rooney: Man Utd has-been or scapegoat?
Since sealing a £25.6m switch from Everton to Manchester United back in 2004, Wayne Rooney has evolved as a player, from an excitingly dynamic youngster to reliable goal-getter and eventually a deeper-lying playmaker at Old Trafford.
Although, despite becoming England’s all-time record goalscorer, his form has massively dipped at club level, with no manager since the retired Sir Alex Ferguson being seemingly able to work out his best position and most influential role on the pitch.
The now 30-year-old Red Devils captain’s recent horror show during the 3-1 defeat to Watford only compounded the issue, having put in one of the worst showings of his 12-year Red Devils career. Though, it only highlighted the problem, with Rooney having showed signs of decline for several seasons.
In light of Rooney’s latest underwhelming outings, fans have been quick to point towards the club’s skipper as their stand-out under-performer during a time when results have gone against Mourinho’s men. But, with many others having failed to live up to expectations, Coral look at whether Rooney’s time at Man Utd is coming to a close or if he’s simply become an easy Old Trafford scapegoat.
Is Rooney’s Man Utd career coming to an end?
The Red Devils, following disappointing defeats at the hands of Watford and bitter rivals Manchester City, are now 12/1 to recover from their indifferent start to the domestic campaign and finish as Premier League champions come next May.
Although, if that feat is to grow into a realistic goal this season, Mourinho will need to swiftly work out his best possible line-up, with his sides becoming impossible to predict, similar to the build-up to each game under the previous reign of Louis van Gaal.
To those watching on as Man Utd aim to reclaim superiority domestically and keep up with close rivals Man City’s impressive early surge, Rooney looks to be a huge problem, seemingly more of a burden on his teammates than an inspirational captain.
The long-serving Three Lions forward is closing in on overtaking the great Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time club scoring record, but earlier outlined intentions of switching to a deeper midfield role to further his career. Such claims were quickly dashed by his boss, though, with ‘the Special One’ having none of it.
Rooney on an ungracious decline in form
Mourinho admitted he sees Rooney as a player that can make a decisive impact further forward, but his recent showings have cast major doubts over those initial ideas, with Rooney having netted once this season and just two in his previous 13 league outings.
Those certainly aren’t encouraging statistics for a player whose role is to have a commanding impact in attack, and his display against League Two outfit Northampton was another damaging blow to his already diminishing reputation.
It’s fair to say that Rooney is enduring an ungracious decline in form, and it was his awful appearance against Watford which made for the most compelling evidence to support many fans’ cries for him to finally be dropped.
Despite being utilised in the crucial number 10 role at Vicarage Road and given the responsibility of making his side tick, Rooney produced a display that was more reminiscent of a Sunday League player who had enjoyed a few too many the night before.
The 30-year-old didn’t create a single chance from open play and, despite being on corner duty for 90 minutes, he made just two openings from those set-pieces. Not one through-ball was played either, no shots on target, not a single tackle was made and he lost two of three attempted aerial duels.
In the eventual 3-1 win over Northampton, Rooney was deployed up front and it was familiarly lacklustre showing. In fact, teenage talent Marcus Rashford had more of a say on proceedings when coming on before the hour mark, while Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick boosted chances of regular starting spots with successful scoring showings too.
If Rooney is unable to enjoy a successful outing up top against a side ranked three divisions below Man Utd and simply isn’t the creative spark required in a deeper role, then Mourinho should have an easy choice when selecting his starting XI for the rest of the campaign.
Scapegoat skipper at Old Trafford?
On the other side of the Rooney conundrum, many pundits throughout the sport have been reluctant to write off the club captain and instead have casted blame further afield, with the whole Man Utd team coming under criticism rather than their misfiring skipper.
It’s true that world-record signing Paul Pogba hasn’t yet set the Premier League alight like he did Serie A during his successful stint with Juventus, but the France international midfielder is still adopting to life back in England after no pre-season.
Swedish sharpshooter Zlatan Ibrahimovic has begun brightly but his quiet periods have been highlighted mainly due to a lack of creative support, particularly against the Hornets, while Anthony Martial is struggling to live up to the enormous expectations he set himself last term.
Following promising showings in the EFL Cup, both Carrick and Herrera will hope to be involved from the start in upcoming domestic battles, with the former having showcased the composure and passing ability from midfield that has been lacking of late.
Marouane Fellaini was another to prove a point in the win over Northampton, with his arrival on the pitch seeing United go on to score twice, more that can be said of Rooney’s full 90-minute appearance for the Red Devils, who are 6/5 to finish outside the top four.
Time for Mourinho to take stand
When the going has got tough at Old Trafford, many are quick to point towards Rooney as the problematic aspect of an underwhelming result, but is he simply a scapegoat? Ever since previously wanting away from the club before earning a new prosperous contract, fans’ affections towards the captain have turned somewhat sour.
Although, even beyond any possible lasting bitterness, it’s evident Rooney simply isn’t the player he once was, and a switch of position on the Old Trafford turf seemingly won’t help him turn a corner after many months of decline.
Past managers on the red half of Manchester have been reluctant, or perhaps afraid, to omit Rooney on a regular basis to benefit the club, with David Moyes and Van Gaal having forced him into their line-ups despite poor form.
So how long will it take before esteemed tactician Mourinho finally takes a stand and opts for a side without his captain? It’s clear Rooney isn’t the same threat up front as Ibrahimovic, he can’t control the midfield as well as Carrick and the likes of Juan Mata and Herrera are much better suited star to unlocking defences.
Those in close connection with the club have argued that fans have short memories, claiming Rooney’s past achievements are quickly being forgotten. But, despite a prestigious career to date, his contributions over the past two seasons have simply not warranted him a spot in a Man Utd side that is aiming to get back to top billing.
Yes, the skipper has enjoyed a trophy-laden career at the Theatre of Dreams for over a decade, but his recent showings have swiftly become a nightmare. With pressure building, Mourinho has blasted those questioning his team choices as “football Einsteins”, but it doesn’t take a genius to see what decision he must make.