Wayne Rooney has been a vital player for Manchester United and England for over a decade, but is it time that both moved on without him?
It is hard to believe, having been at the pinnacle of the game for 14 years, that Wayne Rooney is only one year older than Jamie Vardy, yet while the latter is just reaching the peak of his powers, Rooney is on the decline having peaked long ago.
Manchester United and England now find themselves lumbered with a ‘white elephant’ – an excellent footballer, a hard worker, a captain, but neither side have anywhere to put him. Not if they want to win things.
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Is Rooney Manchester United’s best striker? Louis van Gaal doesn’t think so, which is why he has moved him into midfield and is playing two youngsters, who have barely begun to learn the striker’s craft, ahead of him in that role.
Is Rooney England’s best striker? Again, the answer must be no. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Jermain Defoe and even Troy Deeney scored more Premier League goals this season.
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Rooney, before recent comments, has given the impression (if by nothing else, then by his choice of shirt number) that he sees himself in the number ten role, but he has never excelled in that position. Again, both United and England have players who might not be better all-round footballers than Rooney, but are better in that position than he is.
Van Gaal has attempted to resolve the problem by moving him even further back into ‘regular’ midfield, a position he has never played in regularly in senior football before now. One can’t help but feel that this is an attempt to somehow shoehorn the club captain into the XI because of who he is, rather than because he is one of United’s best midfielders.
The same decision now faces Roy Hodgson ahead of the Euros. Yes, Rooney scored most goals in qualification, but it must be remembered that it was an easy group and four of his seven goals were penalties; Welbeck scored most goals in open play, while Kane and Walcott equalled Rooney’s open play tally in fewer games. Yes, he is England’s all-time top scorer, but when he was missing through injury recently, England were more than capable of scoring without him.
Rooney himself seems resigned to a change in position, at least at club level. Following the rearranged Bournemouth game he told Sky Sports: “Sometimes you have to make choices in your career and at the minute it's probably better for me to play deeper.”
Rooney played well in midfield in that game, but he was never put under any pressure by a Cherries side that are hardly world class and had nothing to play for. Could he really compete in there internationally against the likes of Paul Pogba, Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller?
It is generally accepted that Harry Kane is now England’s first choice striker and will start up top against Russia on June 11. England are surely not going to revert to two up front, so Rooney has to move; but where to?
The most likely scenario is that Hodgson will put Rooney in one of three forward midfield positions behind Kane, in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Alli's talents would be wasted outside of the ‘ten’ role so Rooney shouldn’t go there, which leaves the wider positions, where surely a bit more pace, guile or both is required at that level than the captain possesses. So, does Hodgson risk the overall balance of the team to get his skipper into the starting XI, or does he take the brave decision to drop him?
Rooney certainly has a part to play as a senior squad member; he has been a great centre forward and for some time he was unquestionably England’s best player, but he isn’t anymore.
Only just back from injury and with his power and pace a memory, not to mention his poor form at previous tournaments, surely now is the time to let others take England forward.