Paul Pogba has now joined Manchester United and, instantly, he has become the commercial heart of the club. However, Jose Mourinho is tasked with figuring out how to also make him the footballing centre of the club as the Frenchman seeks both individual and team accolades. With Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini the midfielders who will be at the base of United’s midfield, United has Pogba and one more midfielder (or attacking midfielder) to choose from. The main options in the squad are Wayne Rooney and Ander Herrera, with all other options being narrowed out for one reason or another.
Rooney has been a great servant to the club, but many argue he is past his prime now. He still has much to offer nonetheless. On the other hand, Herrera is a fan-favourite and a gifted player on his day, but he struggled with injuries and Louis van Gaal’s reluctance to allow him to succeed. Jose Mourinho seems to be pushing the most out of both players, though, but which one would be more worth it for United? Scoring each player out of 10 in vital categories could be a way of finding out.
This one easily goes to Herrera. Rooney will occupy Pogba’s space at times, as he does because of his positional inconsistency. Highlighted on many occasions, Rooney interferes with the side in areas in which he shouldn’t, though he would provide some cover for the buccaneering Pogba. Herrera, on the other hand, is the perfect foil to Pogba from a positional standpoint. One of his greatest abilities is to create space with excellent attacking positioning. His runs would allow Pogba to create chances in open spaces. He can dictate the play from deep, as shown against Bournemouth when Pogba drives forward, and he can drive forward while Pogba dictates play from deep. He will also help share defensive responsibility, therefore switching to 4-3-3 while Rooney won’t play deep enough to warrant that.
Verdict: Herrera (10/10), Rooney (4/10)
While Ander Herrera has contributed good goals at good moments for United and possesses the potential to be a rare midfielder with the ability to score 15 in a season, Rooney, regardless of form, will always find the back of the net. Even in his worst form, if he is deployed in attacking areas, he will score one in three without a doubt. Herrera always seems to find the right contribution at the right time, but he won’t contribute the same amount as Rooney, who would reduce some of the goal burden on Pogba from midfield. Rooney scored 15 goals in 38 starts while Ander Herrera scored 5 in 27 last season.
Verdict: Rooney (8/10), Herrera (7/10)
Neither player is the chance creating machine of Pogba or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Rooney’s distribution of the ball is ranged, if not ambitious. Herrera, on the other hand, distributes the ball riskily but creates far better chances than Rooney as shown by his ball to put Antonio Valencia through before Rooney missed a chance from Valencia and Juan Mata’s delivery. Herrera will pick up assists because of his ability to pass the ball like any Spanish midfielder, but Rooney will pick up assists because of his ability to find the ball in good areas, and perhaps assist Pogba himself.
Verdict: Herrera (8/10), Rooney (6/10)
This is a tough one to project. Herrera’s knack for finding interceptions is to do with his incredible positioning, which means he is better suited to play in deep areas. The Spaniard has a lovable but largely risky tendency to get stuck in. Herrera won 2.6 tackles and 1.4 interceptions in 90 minutes compared to Rooney’s 0.94 and 0.34. Herrera wins the ball in higher areas too, adding to the fact Herrera clearly is more effective in starting counter-attacks for Pogba.
Verdict: Herrera (8/10), Rooney (4/10)
Performance of Others
One concern in the back of my mind whenever Rooney was not in the first team was the lack of leadership on the pitch. United looked absolutely lost on the pitch without Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger for some reason, and though Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba himself could help the situation, United would be much worse off without Rooney. Herrera is a leader in a sense, but he isn’t what United needs at this moment in time.
Verdict: Rooney (9/10), Herrera (6/10)
Overall, then, Herrera favours with 39 points in comparison to Rooney’s 31. Besides the leadership he brings and the goals he offers while on form, Rooney fails to offer much to the side in comparison to Herrera. He could remain a valuable player in the side by reducing to a bit-part role, but for some reason, that seems impossible, which means he’s holding others back. Nonetheless, this is a problem United needs to solve, because Pogba and, clearly, Herrera, are talented options who need to play their best football for United to win this year’s Premier League.