Louis van Gaal made three substitutions against Crystal Palace and on each occasion the travelling Manchester United fans must have hoped the fourth official would display the ’10’ - Wayne Rooney’s number - on his electronic board.
But, deep down, they would have known there was no realistic chance of that happening.
Van Gaal is fiercely loyal to Rooney - his captain and leader in the dressing room - but it’s getting to the point now where persisting with the 30-year-old striker is beginning to harm Manchester United.
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Rooney has been abject for much of the season - and rightfully criticised by supporters on numerous occasion - but this afternoon’s performance at Selhurst Park was arguably a new nadir for England’s all-time top scorer.
Nothing came off for the United skipper and how he wasn’t hauled off long before full-time is something only Van Gaal himself can answer.
Elephant in the room
The veteran Dutch coach batted away questions about Rooney in mid-week - complaining he was “sick” of hearing them - but what does he expect?
Manchester United’s centre-forward isn’t scoring goals, creating them or doing anything else of note. It’s the elephant in the room that Van Gaal, for some bizarre reason, is not prepared to address.
When Rooney signed that new four-year contract during David Moyes’ tenure, worth a reported £300,000-a-week, was it written that he must always play? At least it would be an explanation behind Van Gaal’s decision to continue not only picking him but also refusing to substitute him, regardless of how badly he performs.
Anthony Martial should be upfront instead
No player in any team should be afforded the untouchability that Rooney is by Van Gaal, who could make Manchester United so much more dangerous in attack by making a couple of obvious changes. You don’t need to have coached Barcelona and Bayern Munich to know that Anthony Martial would make United far more dangerous in attack if played in Rooney’s position.
Martial is playing on the left flank to accommodate his under-performing teammate and isn’t the type of youngster who’d kick up a fuss about not playing in his natural position, although he’d be well within his rights to.
There was one moment in the match against Palace that showed why Martial - who possesses more pace and strength than 2015’s version of Wayne Rooney - should be playing as the Red Devils’ central striker.
The France international played a delightful pass to Rooney, who looked more like 40 than 30 as he desperately chased the ball. It should have been a clear goalscoring opportunity, but Rooney’s lack of pace meant the ball rolled harmlessly into the arms of Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy.
If that was Martial, he certainly would have caught the ball and more than likely would have buried the chance, too.
In his post-match press conference, Van Gaal admitted he was unsure what Martial’s best position is - but the majority of fans are certain the teenager is now their best centre-forward.
Sadly, though, Van Gaal’s loyalty to Rooney appears to be unbreakable - and until that changes, Manchester United will continue to struggle.
Manchester United fans: do you feel like Louis van Gaal is showing too much loyalty to Wayne Rooney? Have your say in the comments section below!
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