Manchester United are heading into a new era under the leadership of Jose Mourinho. At this moment in time, his captain will remain the same – Wayne Rooney. During his initial press conference when he took over the managerial reigns left by Louis van Gaal after he was sacked shortly after the Emirates FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley in May, Mourinho was asked about Rooney and his role at United under him this coming season. The Portuguese quickly debunked the fact that Rooney would not be moving into a midfield role at the Old Trafford club with a suggestion that Rooney would play as a number ten, a number nine or a nine and a half, whatever that meant.
Whilst United was on their pre-season tour of China, in which they visited Shanghai and were beaten 4-1 by Borussia Dortmund and Beijing where they were due to face Manchester City, but the match was cancelled, Rooney spoke to the media stating where his position actually would be on the pitch. Rooney was once a prolific striker and is quickly becoming the top scorer for Manchester United, sitting just four goals away from equalling the record set by Sir Bobby Charlton back in 1973 when he scored his last goal for United in a 2-0 victory over Southampton at The Dell. Five more goals for Rooney will mean he would then hold top scorer records for both United and England after surpassing Charlton’s record for England last year. Rooney, reported by the Manchester Evening News, said:
“As he said to the press, he said to me about playing. That is something I’ve now got to work on and get myself in the right position to score goals. I have scored goals all through my career and I have no doubt in my goalscoring ability. Hopefully, I can do that this season.”
Rooney is a player who has fallen from grace recently – scoring goals for fun in the 2011/12 season where he scored 34 goals in all competitions, but in the four season’s since, he has scored 64 goals, which is 16 goals on average per season. Rooney clearly does not have the legs or the finishing to be the main striker at the club, and may not be ready to be a midfielder, so playing as the number ten in the side might be the best option for him. Mourinho knows what he is going to do, whether it means Rooney remains the first name on the team sheet from now on remains to be seen, but considering that the Portuguese has already signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan this summer, who specialises as a number ten, but can play on both left and right wings, there may be a better option over Rooney for that role. Juan Mata also plays much better as a number ten, as long as he has some pace behind him and on the wings, and ahead of him, that could also work. Rooney, continuing on the subject of where he would play, said:
“I’m a footballer so I like to be involved in the game, and I am now playing for Jose who, straight away, has no fears about players coming deep if they want to. It’s almost like a free role and I am excited to play it. As the striker in the last couple of seasons, it has been difficult with not creating many chances. It’s a different way of playing, a different manager, different ideas and if I can bring my game and qualities to this team, then I know I can create chances and score goals, there is no doubt about that.
“I’ve been working under the manager for the last few days and the sessions have been very good. It is exciting, he is one of the best managers in world football and he has a clear idea of what he wants. I’m just looking forward to playing for him now. Jose has come in and made some very good signings and experienced players like Zlatan, who has worked all over Europe. The young lads who came through last season, he will help them as well, so I feel we are in a good place at the minute and we can give it a good go next season.”
Rooney might well be reborn under Mourinho this season, but it could also go down like a lead balloon and see the captain decline massively once again. Many feel Rooney has manipulated the club since 2010 when he handed in a transfer request for the first time, having a point in doing so as United lost the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, replacing them with Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen – hardly making a statement to the world about the aim of the club to dominate once again. More recently, though, after the failed managerial reigns of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, Mourinho has changed the was the club was moving by fastly signing Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, also being in the driving seat for Paul Pogba – at this moment in time anyway – that would be more of a statement that has been done before.
Rooney looked good in stages playing in midfield last season, but also looked out of his depth at times. The way United were playing last season might have been part of the problem, and Mourinho seems to want to change that. United will need to find the bast way to make the team tick, which also seems to be a problem – no pace on the right-wing, a lack of strikers, right-back was also a problem with loss of form and injuries, and the midfield suffered a lot of injuries and inconsistencies under the Philosophy of Louis van Gaal. Whilst that may not have been something to be directly attributed to the Dutchman, the actual philosophy was – maintaining possession, but doing nothing with the ball and not threatening in front of goal. With Ibrahimovic, Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Rooney, Memphis, Mata, Lingard et al, that might well change. Add Pogba into the equation, the strength on the pitch will be massive, which would fall in favour of United against most of the Premier League teams.
Rooney playing at number ten may not be the best decision for many Manchester United supporters, but at the end of the day it is not a decision for us supporters to make – it is a decision for the manager to make and be held accountable for. If it does not work, I am sure Mourinho will not be afraid of getting rid of the problem, as one player is not bigger than the club, no matter how much Rooney feels he is. Problems have been expunged from the club before; in the cases of Roy Keane and Jaap Stam to name a few – it can happen again. Maybe it will be the best decision for United. Rooney is a workhorse on the pitch, covering large areas during 90 minutes, and with the winning mentality of Ibrahimovic added to that, a guy who only wants to win, that might just be an ingredient both Rooney and United were missing, which may change everything.
How could Manchester United look with Wayne Rooney playing at number ten?
Under Mourinho, despite the fact only two matches have been played so far; a 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic and a 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, this could well be wrong, but assessing the players that have played under him so far, and the ones that have not, who I have assessed in terms of their overall contribution to the team, this is what I think could be the formation next season for the majority of matches, as Mourinho seldom changes much of his team for matches. Whilst he might take a different stance in the UEFA Europa League, with many youth players to bring up to speed, and the domestic cup matches, like Sir Alex Ferguson, youth may be blooded in during the early stages, or the last matches in Europe, providing United get through the group stage, which was not the case in the UEFA Champions League last season.
The attack in Mourinho’s side – based on the players already at the club, looks pretty good, providing it works. The defence and the goalkeeper speak for itself with David De Gea, Matteo Darmian, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw being my first choice. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in midfield, which could change if Paul Pogba arrives at the club before the start of the season. The three behind the striker being Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line. Obviously, United have strength in-depth with Marcus Rashford able to step in for Ibrahimovic, Memphis Depay and Adnan Januzaj able to replace Martial, both Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata able to replace Rooney, with Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira able to replace Mkhitaryan. In midfield, United have Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini who are able to replace both Carrick and Herrera. In defence, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Antonio Valencia are able to cover for Darmian, with Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo able to fill in for Smalling and Bailly and with Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Rojo able to replace Shaw. Sergio Romero will most likely be the number two goalkeeper, able to step in when De Gea needs a break or becomes injured.
There is some depth to United’s squad, that is even before adding any youth into the squad with Axel Tuanzebe, James Weir, Joe Riley, Donald Love et al into the team, which adds, even more, depth and room for youth to be blooded into the team. Under Mourinho, this could be key to Manchester United’s future. Rooney playing at number ten might be the thing that is missing in the side, he has been clinical in that role in the past, but has equally seemed dull and predictable in that role, it is a 50/50 decision which will either work or fail, but it will need to be given a chance. The main thing is that Manchester United get firing on all cylinders this season, taking on the Premier League from the start of the season, taking the advantage in the early matches and gaining ground over the champions Leicester City and the challengers from last season; Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City.