The debate over Wayne Rooney’s continued presence in Manchester United’s starting XI, and his place in the team in general is an exhausting one, an argument kept mostly within the club’s fan base between those tired of the elevated status he enjoys given his decline in recent years, and those that laud his achievements at the club.
It’s tough to find too much fault with the latter; after all, Rooney is almost certain to overtake Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as the club’s all-time leading scorer this season, which is an impressive accomplishment, whichever way it’s sliced. Four more goals, and the former Evertonian will have his name etched into United’s history forever. And having played second fiddle to the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitsr Berbatov and Robin Van Persie, Rooney has done well to adapt to the roles that he’s been forced to play.
But it’s tough to dispel the criticisms, namely that Rooney hasn’t fulfilled his potential since he burst onto the scene in 2004, or that he isn’t worth building a team around.
Jose Mourinho stated that Rooney would not play in midfield as he had done last season under Louis van Gaal, and so far during this term, the Portuguese has started the United captain as a number 10 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It’s been a functional, but unimpressive partnership, seemingly missing a link or two. Rooney’s lack of sharpness on the ball doesn’t help in that regard and his now-famously loose first touch in tight spots is not helping.
The problem is that Mourinho now has viable options in every position that Rooney can play, some might say better options. Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are both able to play at 10, and Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford are both ahead of him in the striking pecking order.
As such, why should Rooney be an automatic starter? He can still score goals, sure, but is it worth playing him in his preferred position when Mourinho could play a 4-3-3 that gets the best out of the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial? The Portuguese is hamstrung to a certain extent; Rooney is very much the face of the club and dropping him could cause issues, but the fact is that Rooney, for all the good he’s done in a red shirt is not the player he once was. Sunday’s goal against Bournemouth masked a dive, loose touch and a botched 1-on-1 opportunity, which makes you consider when Mourinho will have just cause to not consider him for selection. It’s unlikely to happen against Southampton this Friday, but it should be something we see before 2016 is over.