Does England's captain still justify his place in Manchester United’s starting line-up?

5 Premier league titles, 2 FA Cups, 3 Community shields, Champions league and FIFA Club World Cup winners’ medal. 419 league appearances, 187 Premier League goals and 131 assists to date. 109 caps and 51 international goals. I’m sure any player with such statistics attached to their name would be welcomed by every manager across the country. The player in question is one Wayne Mark Rooney. The Manchester United and England captain performances this season has seen plaudits and fans ask whether Rooney should have a place in the United’s starting line-up.

Sitting second in the Premiership’s all time scorer’s chart, Rooney has racked up the goals at both Everton and United since his debut as a fresh faced 16 year old. However 12 games into his 14th season as a professional footballer, the stats do not look too good for the former Everton academy graduate. Wayne has only managed 2 goals in the league; his first at Old Trafford against Sunderland and the second coming on the 17th October against former club Everton in a 3-0 away victory. He has amassed 7 goals in all competitions – 1 Champions league, 1 Capital One Cup and a hat-trick in the Champions league qualifier – 20 appearances spread across domestic and European matches, and with a return of goals that has not reached double figures yet, more is expected from a player of his quality.

There are various reasons as to why he’s misfiring in front of goal; lack of confidence, no composure in front of goal and not getting himself in the right goal scoring positions. One reason that has become a big talking point is the effect of being played in different positions in the last few years. Rooney is a striker by trade, he has spent the majority of his career up front. He plays well in a 4-4-2 formation or in a 4-2-3-1, playing just behind the number 9. The last few seasons has seen him deployed as a central midfielder – mainly to accommodate Robin Van Persie during his time at the club – or as a central attacking midfielder. Many people were crying out for Rooney to be restored as United’s central attacking threat and be treated as a striker just as he is for England. Van Gaal, duly obliging, stuck him up front. It took 11 competitive matches before breaking his duck. His last goal coming on the 4th April against Villa. United fans will hope he breaks his latest duck of 4 league games.

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Another factor is the emergence of £36 million signing of Anthony Martial. The young Frenchman from Monaco has been a bright spark in United’s rather dull performances. Although abit raw around the edges, it is clear the 19 year old is a natural number 9. Pacey, agile, a good dribbler and has an eye for goal. Playing on the left wing was wasting his potential; Van Gaal has come to his senses playing up front as a striker. Consequently that has seen Rooney revert the central attacking position, the number 10. Many see the number 10 role and position as Rooney’s. Van Gaal has other options in the shape of, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Andres Pereira or even Depay and Jesse Lingard. I think most people would rather see Rooney in that role.

Wayne’s body is not what it was 4 or 5 years ago. He turned 30 this year and it is evident his physical powers are diminishing. He is no longer as quick, robust or aggressive as he used to be. However the technical abilities of his game are still there, he can still pick out a lovely 30 yard pass, the desire to win and always give his all in matches is still there for fans, plaudits and Van Gaal to see. We shouldn’t expect him to be reaching the heights of 2009/10 and 2011/12 seasons – 34 goals apiece in each of those seasons. He still gets into double figures and has done ever since he joined the Red Devils. There is no doubt he’ll eclipse the 10 goal mark figure again this season.

Dropping Rooney from the starting line-up could also become a problem for the national team. England’s record goal scorer will have to be playing regular club football to be in peak form for the Euro’s, although it is expected his performances will improve over the rest of the campaign. He is the captain and in the view of most people, the country’s best player. Hopefully he’ll make an impact just as he did in his first international tournament.

The responsibility associated with the captain’s armband is seen in the way he address the younger players at the club and on international duty. He has much more of cooler head these days. He’s a natural born leader bringing experience, great communicative skills and encouraging his troops. He’s definitely needed in the squad and on the pitch. His performances will have to improve, so far they don’t justify his inclusion or we will soon see him warming the bench.

Featured image: all rights reserved by Ben Sutherland.

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