Wayne’s Pains: How Do You Solve The Rooney Problem?

By Sumit Rehal

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At the turn of this year, Manchester United only scored 1 goal in the first half of a Premier League game during the 2015/16 season, last weekend they bagged 4 in one half alone against Leicester City.

Why weren’t United able to have the same effect over the last few years with the abundance of previously prolific strikers in their team? The answer looks to be in the fact that Wayne Rooney was dropped for a key game.

The 30-year old has been at the centre of attention for being a weak link in his team over the months despite netting 316 goals altogether in his career. Rooney has also been a major contributor to United’s titles in recent years, earning himself a lucrative contract that’s worth £250,000 a week.

Since this contract renewal, the Merseyside native hasn’t been the same goalscorer that saw him strike fear into defenders eyes around the world. Nonetheless, he has been occupying the first team in attacking positions, forcing the likes of Mata and Martial to the wing, both of whom had been excelling in central attacking positions when given the chance.

In the past, Rooney had always been greatest when he was support to the talisman alongside him. At first it was Ruud Van Nistelrooy then it was Christiano Ronaldo and finally, Robin Van Persie. RVP has since stated that towards the end of his United tenure, there were “players” in his way and in his positions while on the field. As the captain and the focus man in attack, Rooney cannot exceed. He needs to remain a lieutenant but not the general.

Towards the end of last season, Marcus Rashford had exploded out of nowhere and earned himself as a mainstay at the front, leaving Louis Van Gaal to deal with the Rooney problem. The Dutch manager had actually seemed to have a solution by switching the number 10 to centre midfield. This simple placement had seen the team’s balance massively improve with Rooney providing awareness, strength and distribution all over the park while the likes of Martial and Rashford banged in the goals. Wayne even won his first FA Cup while in midfield. This security was also seen in the Euros with Wazza being one of the more constructive players in the lineup (although that wasn’t such a hard task).

Jose Mourinho however had other ideas. The “Special One” had always been a fan of Wayne’s with rumours of him trying to snap him up back in the day in his first Chelsea stint. For this reason, Mourinho stated that Rooney shouldn’t be deployed in midfield and should stay as a striker. This strategy had however failed as United had failed to excite as much as they could up front despite the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba arriving. This is because Rooney was occupying their positions and not providing enough creativity to compensate!

Against Leicester, Rooney made way for Mata to be the playmaker in the middle and the Spaniard was at the centre of most of United’s attack, with an assist and a banger to his name, which he started the move in. Pogba was also given the green light to move forward more often to support the attack with state of the art through balls and movement, not to mention his header home. The balance was complete with Jesse Lingard and Rashford offering pace on the wings and Ander Herrera enforcing the midfield.

So what does Mourinho do now with his captain? Does he keep him on the bench for future Premier League matches? Does he offload him elsewhere? Or does he move him to another position? Paul Scholes found himself in a similar situation as his time at the club became limited. The second striker started his career as a key man off the centre forwards and offered great support to the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Van Nistelrooy.

Injuries and age eventually caught up with the “Ginger Prince” and Sir Alex Ferguson made the decision to drop him deeper and make use of his experience and vision to control the game from the middle of the park. Scholes was even United’s most valuable midfielder after coming back out of retirement at the age of 38.

Mourinho and Rooney should not be fearful to have Rooney start from this position as he has already proved that he can be useful there and more time in this role may see him become a powerhouse there. This responsibility will also enable Rooney to age gracefully as Scholes had and prolong his Manchester United career in the years to come.

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