The fickle media has been as quick to attack Wayne Rooney after Manchester United’s triumphant 4-1 win against Leicester as they were to praise him for no reason. It’s clear at this point that the entire situation in the media was somewhat of a controversy around the English captain, and through all the defence I haven’t yet seen a legitimate claim about what he offers to the side from a footballing perspective.
Without Rooney, and a couple of others, United worked harder, pressed better and scored more goals against their opponents who would have to be considered significantly more talented than Watford. Juan Mata’s presence on the pitch would make many believe the system was a 4-2-3-1, but for most of the game, Mata and Paul Pogba dovetailed superbly alongside each other, with incredible service from Ander Herrera to allow them to blow the match apart. With these options, and the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Henrikh Mkhitaryan to return from injury and even Jose Mourinho’s fancied Marouane Fellaini, what is next for Rooney?
Herrera, Pogba, and Mata were the three hardest-working players on the pitch, while Jesse Lingard completed the most sprints by far, forming a pacey, agile side that Leicester couldn’t defend against. Combine that with Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two players who are incredibly difficult to mark, and barring a complete collapse or some more poor decisions, Rooney has no place in United’s team anymore. That being said, he’s the team captain, leader and maybe legend, so what’s next for him?
Many believed this would be Rooney’s last season at the club, and those who watched United in 2013 would know he is definitely not going to be satisfied with a role off the bench for a long time. But once the reluctance to bench him is removed, he has no claim for a place back in the team ahead of anyone, in any role, doing anything.
Mourinho never wanted a strike partnership, though he defended the concept well for a couple of weeks. After yesterday’s game, he said that Ibrahimovic needs fast players around him to be successful, and Rooney isn’t that. With Ibrahimovic as the focal point of the side, Rooney has been given the opportunity to bring others into play but he hasn’t done so.
“When our main striker is Zlatan we need fast people to surround him.”
With the injection of Mata to spray the ball out wide and Lingard to make runs in behind, Mata was the first United player to score and assist in the same match Lingard picked up an assist of his own for Mata’s goal, Rashford scored one of his own. Without Rooney taking and botching half the set-pieces United takes, the likes of Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling proved too much for the opposition as United scored two from set-piece headers. Blind picked up the assists for both. Pogba only met the score-sheet once, but he was the orchestrator for everything, at the heart of a side and brought into play by the sheer intelligence of Herrera and Mata.
But everything surrounding Rooney seems bleak, all of a sudden. I really don’t know what’s next for him. It seems like the first time in ages in which there’s no plan or objective for Rooney. He isn’t becoming a midfielder, or a striker again, or an attacking midfielder. He isn’t trying to earn the armband or trying to leave the club again. He wants to retire at United. And with that in mind, it’s really tough to determine what could be next for him, especially regarding his place in the England squad. I suppose now it’s time for all of us to sit with our popcorn and hope the right decisions will be made.