Ahead of this weekend’s big Premier League kick off, question marks still surround Wayne Rooney’s future in the Manchester United starting line up under new manager Jose Mourinho.
The rise and rise of Wayne
Wayne Rooney has enjoyed an unrivalled level of influence over the corridors of Old Trafford ever since the day Sir Alex Ferguson hung up his managerial jacket.
Both rumours and facts would point towards the fact that Rooney would most likely have been sold by the Scot had he remained, firmly believing that over a decade at the very top of the game had finally taken their toll on a player who had never been known for commitment to the athletic form.
Instead, as well all know, Sir Alex walked away, and his one time-golden boy has taken his title as the King of Old Trafford.
The King is dead
The truth is, Rooney’s rise to the top of Old Trafford started in 2010, when Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed in a public press conference that his star man had requested a transfer:
I was dumbfounded, I could not understand it…We just don’t know what’s changed the boy’s mind. It was terribly disappointing.
For any other player, especially under the iron-clad control of the tempestuous Scot, this would’ve spelt the end of their Old Trafford career – just ask Jaap Stam or David Beckham what happened when they crossed their manager’s path.
This time it was different though, and if some are to be believed the most risky of power plays had been executed to see just how much influence he had in a team that was bereft of any world class attacking players at the time following the recent departure of Ronaldo.
It worked, Rooney was given a pay rise, and for the first time a player had taken on Sir Alex, and came out trumps.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me
Ferguson though would bite back; Rooney and he hardly saw eye to eye towards the end of his reign, most notably being dropped for the monumental Champions League clash at Old Trafford in a game which saw them crash out of the Champions League.
It had not yet been made public at this point though that Sir Alex was leaving, and all therefore suggested that Rooney had reached the end at the Theatre of Dreams, and eulogies written in his honour were at the ready.
Ferguson went further still though, claiming at the end of the season that yet another transfer request had been handed in by the player, a statement that was later disputed by Wayne himself.
With Rooney’s old foe David Moyes being brought in though, it seemed the end was certainly nigh, and Jose Mourinho was casting admiring glances towards the now England Captain’s direction – more on this later on.
Long live the King
Moyes though was desperate to make a statement, and move himself from under the shadow of his predecessor.
Rather then successfully capture Bale, or hand the keys to the centre of Old Trafford to Cesc Fabregas, the former Evertonian manager paraded the successful re-integration of his former protegé into the team as the equivalent of a new signing.
It would only be six months before Wayne would be walking to the bank with a healthy £300,000 a week – a whopping £210,000 higher than it was during the initial dispute a couple of years earlier.
Rooney then became the focal point of first David Moyes Manchester United, and secondly Luis Van Gaal’s pedestrian side, seemingly immune to the tough treatment of others, including the Dutchman’s favourite son, and captain.
From his Holland side, Robin Van Persie, who was unceremoniously shown the door less than 12 months into the reign.
Rooney just seemed the man who could not be put down, seemingly as confused as the legions of United fans as he was shifted round the pitch in an attempt to find some sort of role for him.
There has been a common consent amongst many that Rooney would eventually turn into a Paul Scholes lite, gradually dropping further back in the team to dictate play around the pitch.
We saw this at times from all three previous United managers, with even Sir Alex employing him there when injuries decreed. Van Gaal, undoubtedly a genius in many ways, also saw Rooney in this role, and this was the way he was played towards the end of his tenure, seemingly lacking the pace to play off the back shoulder.
The merits of this tactic though just do not add up; in 2015/16, a time when Rooney should be at his best, he had a successful pass completion rate of just 83.1% – compare this to Paul Scholes, the player he was supposed to emulate, who managed a staggering 92% success rate in his final season (second time round).
The one thing Rooney potential does offer from this position is the ability to drive forward with the ball from Midfield, something that no other player in red seemingly had the confidence to do….but more on this later.
A new dawn
Enter Jose Mourinho…Mourinho would’ve know that he needed to gain complete control of the Old Trafford Corridors upon his arrival, and remove any threat of player-power considering what had happened to the two previous managers, and already existing doubts on his suitability for the Old Trafford hot seat.
What better way to do this then undermine a player that has carefully manipulated his way to the top of the Old Trafford Ladder? Jose wasted no time whatsoever, stating in his very first press conference:
You can tell me his pass is amazing but my pass is amazing too without pressure….With me he will be a nine, a 10, a 9.5, but never a number six or a number eight.
Just like that then, Rooney became the topic of conversation amongst the United fans, but this time with the focus on whether he will have any role at all to play under his new manager.
This also from a manager who was apparently desperate to sign the player just three years ago – one must wonder whether Mr Mourinho still hurts a little by being turned down.
If not there, then where?
Midfield is certainly no longer an option for Rooney. Combining with Mourinho’s quotes is the fact that Paul Pogba is about to arrive, a player who is able to drive into space to far more effect than Rooney can now he has reached his fourth decade, and it is arguably the striker whose place is now most under threat with the arrival of the world’s most expensive player seemingly imminent.
The tip of the team is also seemingly set to be occupied by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with his presence and aura bound to have a positive influence on both the team, and the watching crowd.
The Swede may be there years Rooney’s senior, but has maintained his body better than any other player in world football (perhaps excluding Ronaldo), and will continue to dominate games on his own.
If Rooney is to play up closer to goal therefore, he will have to accept a bit part role, something he has never done before.
In the days of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, Rooney was shifted out wide, often to his detriment, but to the benefit of a team that swept aside all before them.
Again, this avenue seems distinctly shut off, as Anthony Martial will surely be one of the first names on the Old Trafford team sheet.
Unique in the way he will be able to win a game with an individual moment of brilliance that Van Gaal so envied of Mourinho when he had Eden Hazard, Martial will go from strength to strength, and possesses a direct, aggressive style of play that Rooney now can only think of in a day gone by.
On the other side is a player who has the Stretford End licking their lips in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Player of the Season in Germany last year.
With 11 goals, and 15 assists in just 26 games (alongside 11 MOMs), all things would suggest he will have an impact more similar to that then the last big signing from Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa.
Mourinho knows no other player offers this style of play, and I would not be surprised to see him eventually move more central as well.
It then seems a battle royal at the moment between Rooney and Juan Mata for the role in the middle, and this presumes that Marcus Rashford doesn’t continue his rapid rise, and Memphis Depay does not find the form that made him one of the most coveted youngsters in Europe just 12 months ago.
Many a United fan feels that Mata will offer more in terms of subtly than Wayne Rooney, but also recognise the fact that the England captain still carries a certain fear factor amongst rival teams.
As club captain, you would also suspect that he may be given the early benefit of the doubt. Make no mistake though, any of these three players will be desperate to take his role at any given opportunity, and Mourinho will be watching carefully from the sidelines, ready to catch him out on any misplaced touch or wayward diagonal ball that puts the success of his team at risk.
Make no mistake, with Zlatan, Martial and potentially Pogba in this line up, Rooney is no longer in a position where he can rest on his laurels.