Cast your mind back two years to October 2010 and the bombshell that was Wayne Rooney’s transfer request.
Of course, Rooney went on to eventually sign a new bumper contract yet his reasons for the request were spelt out when he questioned the club’s ability to sign world class players and thus match his ambition. Another league title and a Champions League final place seemed to suggest that the grass is not always greener. Now the club have splurged with the summer acquisitions of Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie, you begin to wonder where this all leaves Wayne.
While the team’s performances are still mixed at best, both signings have proved valuable world-class assets to the squad. Though Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably still working out how to best deploy his strikeforce the pair have figured majorly even if the season is only a few weeks old. Intriguingly, during Rooney’s injury the results read five wins out of five, masking his absence and perhaps proving he is not as indispensable as he may think.
Could it be that the signings Rooney demanded are now forcing him out of the reckoning? The second half against Spurs certainly seemed to suggest as much as Rooney returned only to influence play on the fringes while Van Persie and Kagawa often found themselves in more dangerous territory. That’s not to dispute his influence as it was his whipped cross that found Nani and momentarily brought United back into the game. However, further up the pitch it was Van Persie’s slide-rule pass which found Kagawa, showing early signs of a burgeoning understanding.
Certainly a tactical rethink suggests using Kagawa as a number 10 with Van Persie acting as a targetman. That would see both in their favourite position and their continued selection will help prove that the outlay was good business. That’s not to oust Rooney as there lies an argument that world-class players can always find a way of playing alongside each other. Indeed, Rooney has proved his status as one of England’s few (if only) world-class players so where do you put him?
In the games that Rooney has featured in since his return he seems to be undertaking a more withdrawn role to influence play from a position closer to midfield. Perhaps this is one method Ferguson has of shoehorning another forward into his team; simply reposition them. Not that a midfield role should be new to Rooney, during last season he filled in during an injury crisis and did not let the side down with some disciplined performances.
His performance against Newcastle highlighted how he could flourish in an advanced midfield role. Instead of having him as a forward only to drop back to receive the ball then influence play, Rooney could orchestrate with United still having bodies in dangerous positions up front. What also worked well was the amount of time Rooney found himself in to be able to assess the space in front and pick out a forward pass. With such a great football brain, a few more split-seconds on the ball can make all the difference. Finally, a point has to be made about Rooney’s involvement. Having returned from his injury lay-off he looked decidedly fitter which is crucial in a midfield role as it necessitates disciplined positioning and the odd sliding tackle, which Rooney was more than willing to provide.
Before Sunday there was already the clamour that a player of Rooney’s vision would flourish in a playmaker role in advanced midfield and there are similarities to Paul Scholes’ career. Beginning as a striker before dropping back into midfield proved his best position as his attacking instincts were marked by late runs into the box and lurking menacingly at the edge. Rooney himself has said that though he enjoys playing as a striker there is the possibility that a withdrawn role would suit him, there is certainly no harm in finding out and the early signs are promising.
Against FC Cluj it was Rooney who assisted both of Van Persie’s goals and his ball over the top for the Dutchman’s winner is a good an indication that he can still provide a telling pass despite being in midfield. Though he didn’t provide a flurry of fantasy team points on Sunday against Newcastle his use of the ball and all-round performance was impressive. It would not be a huge surprise to see him remain there still dictating play.