Mercifully, the international break is now over. That period without meaningful football seems like an eternity, but for one big name, the return to club football could see him staring at a period on the side-lines. Wayne Rooney, once considered the golden child of English football and captain of club and country is now facing the reality of now no longer being considered an automatic choice for both.
Although Manchester United started the season with three Premier League wins, their performances were unconvincing and after a run of three consecutive defeats in all competitions, Rooney lost his place in the side. United then looked a more balanced outfit and performed significantly better in their 4-1 demolition of Leicester City as Rooney looked on from the substitute’s bench. He was then left out of their next two matches, a role he may have to get used to.
Make no mistake; I am not suggesting Rooney is finished because at 30 years of age, he still has a good amount left in the tank. However, he may have to reconsider his role on the pitch. The myth that he could somehow become a fantastic central midfielder, purely because he is able to switch the play with 40 yard passes is steadily becoming dispelled. For Rooney to play a midfield role, it would need to be an advanced one with a structure built around him in order to facilitate it. That is something he’s unlikely to given at Manchester United and something England would be foolish to try and achieve, partly because of Rooney’s age and partly because he actually slows attacks down when playing in midfield. Rooney’s complete lack of pace and diminishing mobility means he would struggle to fulfil a wide attacking position. Equally, he would be largely ineffective in the lone striker position he was able play so impressively three or four years ago. What remains is the option for him to play as a second striker or as the 10 in behind, which would probably be the best option for him now.
Rooney is still an excellent footballer; but he is no longer the rampaging, all-action, Roy of the Rovers striker he once was and whilst he may still be able to have an influence on the pitch, it will rarely be for a full 90 minutes. At least, not for Manchester United and England and that begs the question: could he still do it elsewhere and should he move?
If Rooney decided to move on from Manchester United or even if the club looked to offload him, the most obvious stumbling block would be his contract. The Premier League is awash with money, but no other club in the league will likely be willing to offer him a contract anywhere near as lucrative as the one he is currently on. For him, it will be whether or not he is willing to accept a significantly reduced contract in exchange for being a guaranteed starter; for the club, they would likely also have to accept a lower financial package than they’d desire.
In terms of options, the established Premier League top clubs are extremely unlikely to be an option and Southampton could be added to that list. Clubs like Stoke and West Ham could be a viable possibility, or potentially maybe an emotional return to boyhood club Everton, but again, finances would play a major role. Perhaps Rooney may be prepared to cast his net further afield and try his hand in a foreign league, with PSG the most realistic in terms of high profile clubs and their liking for big name players, as well as financial capabilities. What could be an alternative is to follow Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard over to the MLS, a league where he could still be a major star and the pace of game that would suit him at this stage of his career.
Of course, all of this is conjecture as Rooney could yet re-establish himself in the Manchester United team, but given his age and the differences in the balance and dynamics of how they played without him, rather than seemingly try to accommodate him in the side it is only a matter of time before he will have to address this issue.