Everyone can agree that Wayne Rooney’s days leading the line seem to be over. The Manchester United and England captain isn’t as quick or as explosive as he was a few years ago, and with the fast-paced nature of modern football, he is no longer that effective as a main central striker.
That said, the 30-year-old certainly hasn’t lost his footballing intelligence, his technical ability or his quality on the ball. Rooney scored 15 goals for Man United this season, but since returning from a two-month injury in early April he was deployed almost exclusively as a midfielder by Louis van Gaal.
His impressive displays at club level since then have suggested that he has what it takes to emulate United legend Paul Scholes by becoming a world-class midfield playmaker. Like his former teammate, Rooney is a player that needs to get on the ball in order to influence football matches, and his new deeper role allows him to do exactly that.
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At his very best, there’s no question that Rooney was a top-class centre-forward. However, as he enters the latter stages of his career it seems as though he must play regularly in midfield in order to continue having an impact at the highest level.
Rooney’s midfield attributes
Rooney could re-invent himself as a top central midfielder because he is comfortable receiving the ball under pressure and has excellent awareness, but he’s also aggressive, hard-working and not afraid to make tackles. Technically, the former Everton livewire can orchestrate play from midfield with his vision and ability to cut defences open.
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Since his switch to midfield for United, Rooney’s exceptional range of passing has been on show for all to see. Whether it’s simple five-yard passes to keep things moving in the middle of the park or 60-yard diagonal switches of play, the United skipper's distribution is second to none.
Like Frank Lampard did for so many years at Chelsea, Rooney also makes late runs into the box which makes it hard for defenders to pick him up. His goal against Bournemouth during the final game of the 2015-16 Premier League season perfectly epitomised this, as his desire to get forward earned him a simple tap-in and his 100th league goal at Old Trafford.
FA Cup Final performance
Rooney pulled the strings in midfield yet again as United withstood conceding the first goal and being reduced to ten men to defeat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final. He had more touches than any other player and produced a skilful, determined run and cross to setup Juan Mata’s equalising goal.
He lost the ball cheaply on a few occasions and made some rash challenges, but those are things he can improve on as he understands the position more and more. Overall, it was a real captain’s performance from Rooney with passion and desire, and he deservedly completed his full set of domestic trophies at Wembley.
What does Rooney think?
The technical quality that Rooney has shown over the past decade or so for both club and country indicated that he was always likely to drop deeper as he got older. In the past few weeks, it has become relatively clear that playing in midfield is something that England’s all-time record goalscorer has known he would do for quite some time and is where he feels his future lies.
Where will he play for England?
The Red Devils endured a disappointing campaign by their usual standards but their positive end to the season will surely have Rooney heading to Euro 2016 in buoyant mood.
It remains to be seen whether Roy Hodgson uses his skipper in a slightly more attacking role such as a number ten - which is where he played against Portugal - but many fans criticised his performance and how he seemingly blunted England's attack.
Wherever he plays this summer, England fans should be excited by the prospect of Rooney linking up with the likes of Dele Alli and Jack Wilshere to supply in-form strikers Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy. Rooney has all the attributes to become a world-class midfield player and his positional switch looks set to prolong his career at the top level for many years.
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