A debate has raged on amongst Man United and England fans for a while now: what is Rooney’s best position? It’s a question that’s been asked with such frequency and allowed everyone to throw their opinion at it to the point of exhaustion. What is worth discussion at this stage is Rooney finally accepting a role in the heart of Manchester United’s midfield? The United captain has put up no defiance to Louis Van Gaal’s decision to drop him into the centre of United’s midfield in recent weeks, rather contrarily he has taken to it like a duck in water. What a surprise yeah? No.
Wayne Rooney’s talents as a striker has no reason to be doubted, he has consistently scored for United since he debuted with a hat-trick against Fenerbace. What has always been apparent though is that his ability extends beyond being purely a goal scorer. How many games have you watched where the welcome sight was an energetic Wayne Rooney leaving his forward position in hunt of the ball to get himself involved in the game. He has always wanted to be the player on the pitch that dictates the game and pulls the strings. His range of passing always gave him options, rather than purely driving at the opposition with the ball, he could look up and ping a pin point diagonal to United’s wide men, and do it with incredible ease that you could liken to former United midfield general Paul Scholes (cue faux outrage at the Scholes/Rooney comparison). The attributes are there, his work ethic, his footballing intelligence and his wide array of technical ability but it is now finally that the man himself has accepted a role that as he ages is becoming more and more necessary to the longevity of his game.
Wayne Rooney put up great resistance in the past when Fergie would move him from his preferred striker role, often to help the team’s goals. Rooney saw himself as a superstar striker, as did his agent no doubt and all those sponsors he has. Louis Van Gaal has managed to get his captain to step into the centre of midfield with little question from the player. This could come down to the array of talent United now have at their disposal in forward areas. When you are capable of putting out a side that includes Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao it is no surprise that Rooney is the one who steps back to fill gap in the midfield. Rooney is a great footballer, RVP and Falcao are great strikers. Neither of them have the capability to be effective from midfield. Juan Mata and Angel Di Maria are great attacking threats and creative individuals. Both lose their potency the further back they pushed from attacking positions. Rooney on the other hand has the ability to drop back into midfield and still maintain his influence on the game due to his wide array of skills. Any notion that this upsets his ability to attack and score goals like he wants to is no longer an argument. In recent weeks Rooney has been in fine goalscoring form when bursting out of the midfield. Andy Gray seems to be a favourite of the argument “he can’t score as many goals from midfield” therefore Rooney needs to play up top. I think a man named Frank Lampard turns that whole idea on its head Mr Gray. Rooney has the engine to do his midfield duties and get forward enough to get on the scoresheet, any argument otherwise is nonsense.
This isn’t an attempt to knock Wayne Rooney’s footballing skills, but, it seems at time he isn’t quick enough to keep up with the one touch and intricate inter-play that the likes of Mata, Di Maria and RVP want to get involved in when in the final third. Rooney seems to take a second touch at times when Di Maria in the same situation has played the pass first time and gone 5 yards past his marker. Perhaps Rooney has realised this and thought that he is better behind these players dictating the game and getting the ball to those players.
It could also be that LVGenius (surely we can get that trending) and his system is finally one where Rooney feels he can continue to contribute the way he wants to without sacrificing too much of the player he believes he is. If we are being honest Rooney was always going to have to drop into the midfield, if not by choice but through necessity with age. Rooney isn’t blessed with a physique like RVP or Ronaldo that will allow him to play upfront well into his thirties. Rooney would become a central midfielder just so he could continue playing for a team at United’s level, and it’s happened to greats before him. Ryan Giggs eventually gave up his position on the left and transitioned into a wonderful centre mid for United. David Beckham in his days with LA Galaxy, even Milan and PSG, took up a role in the middle of the pitch when he couldn’t run around in the wide position as he once had. What Rooney is doing now is pre-empting the inevitable to me. This doesn’t mean he will never play up top again, of course he will when team selection will dictate that. But, by getting comfortable with the position now at 29 it will help make him more effective when it becomes the sole position he can play in. What’s helping him at the moment is the cushion he has with a Rolls Royce like Michael Carrick next to him, allowing him more freedom than he would if he was the player who needed to sit in the midfield and allow the rest to pose the attacking threat.
I can’t understand anyone that doesn’t think Wayne Rooney playing centre midfield is a good thing. It’s good for him, it’s good for United and potentially good the national team. If you were a coach and watched Wayne Rooney train and noted his best attributes and no one told you he was a striker, I think you would say that’s my centre mid. He is going to run the game for my side.