The issue of Wayne Rooney is a particularly thorny one when it comes to Manchester United fans, with two very distinctive camps with wildly differing opinions on the club’s captain. There’s his supporters, who consistently point to his gargantuan efforts for United over the last 12 years and his impending coronation as the club’s all-time top scorer, and his detractors, who regard his continued presence at the club as an albatross around the club’s neck and believe that his status at the club is inherently detrimental to United’s long-term progress.
Social media was awash with fans bemoaning Rooney’s absence during United’s 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord on Thursday night, suggesting that his omission from the matchday squad certainly didn’t help United. Trouble is, there’s not exactly much evidence to suggest that it would have done much good, either.
Rooney’s record so far this season is the very definition of acceptable; one goal and two assists. He provided an excellent run and pass for Marcus Rashford’s late strike against Hull City, crossed for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s headed goal against Southampton and notched a header of his own against Bournemouth. But Rooney hasn’t run the show for his team this season; far from it. His contributions in front of goal have dwindled significantly in recent years, and whilst he has the occasional flash of brilliance, his hold-up play and ability to keep attacking movements flowing has significantly worsened to the point where attacks frequently break down as a consequence of his actions.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that Jose Mourinho has favoured in the Premier League this season has been primarily utilised as a way of getting Rooney in at number ten, which is essentially the only role that the Portuguese feels he’s suited to at this stage. This unbalances the team and creates quite a stilted, immobile striking partnership, as Ibrahimovic is not expected to provide much running up front. Given that the club spent £89m on Paul Pogba, conventional wisdom suggests that, at 23, he is a much better candidate for having a team built around him at this stage, not a player whose best years are behind him and whose standout performances for his club are few and far between these days.
Whilst United’s defeat in Holland with a 4-3-3 was hardly a ringing endorsement of what United can do without Rooney, there’s surely enough evidence to suggest that Mourinho needs to trial such experiments more often and start thinking about the future of his side, instead of fixating on a present that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.