Should United Sell Rooney?
Tuesday night’s controversy over the Nani red card took attention away from Alex Ferguson’s decision to drop Wayne Rooney. At least for a few hours. The grandmaster of Old Trafford, never afraid of making a big decision, also dropped weekend hattrick hero Shinji Kagawa in order to do what he feels is best for his team.
Inevitably it is the exclusion of Rooney against Real Madrid that has raised more eyebrows. On course to become this fantastic club’s record goalscorer, it would appear ludicrous he isn’t wanted anymore. But Ferguson will not bow to sentimentality or his own ego. He will do what he feels is right by United. We can remember the unceremonious sale of Jaap Stam or the exits for Roy Keane and David Beckham, players who still had a big contribution to make at the Theatre Of Dreams. On occasion Fergie has let slide the excesses of Cantona, Keane and Rooney to keep them at the club, precisely because he weighed them up and did what was in the ultimate interest of Manchester United. Canny operator.
For a few seasons now Rooney has been scoring in fits and starts. Prolific passages, split by dodgy droughts that should have highlighted the Liverpudlains overall game sooner. It is no good pointing at his goal record alone to assess his standard. What those dry spells proved to me is that my concerns about his game even when he is scoring for fun were legitimte. Although his goal record has been excellent since his arrival in Manchester (196 in 352), his general play in many areas has receded. He is a top quality finisher with a top work rate but aspects such as dribbling, imagination in tight spaces and the ability to create for himself from anywhere on the pitch, like that kid that rocked the world in 2004, are long gone.
The arrival of Robin Van Persie, a superior player to Wayne, has only proved the intelligence of Ferguson further. Most of us, me included, thought United’s priorities last summer should have been strengthening across the midfield and not up front. Yet that decision sees United waltzing to a record 20th league title. Particularly in the early part of the season, Van Persie’s contribution sealed more points for his side than any other player in the Premier League. Perhaps he would like to use the funds from a Rooney sale to reinvest it in his midfield.
The first leg at the Bernabeu already caused debates as to Rooney’s role when he was lined up wide right. So often used as a workhorse in big games by Ferguson, the arguments between those who saw him as selfless and those who feel he hasn’t justified the hype in the big games began. I feel both are right and that ultimately the promise of 2004 has never been fulfilled.
How can I say that of a player who also has a chance to break Bobby Charlton’s England goals record of 49? As I’ve said before goals are not everything. His play in behind the striker has not been that of a withdrawn creator, let alone a no10. He drops deep and plays simple passes under less pressure, which is fine. But he is not an innovative genius, a player of unlimited options as his disciples would have you believe. When he puts his foot on the ball, you do not get a sense of anticipation in the crowd. Not since 2004.
Sadly I think that ability as a teenager has been obfuscated over the years by goals and titles with United or just goals with England. That is until he has a shocker, like he did vs Algeria in 2010 where he struggled to control the ball. To be able to look like an amateur can only point to mental fragility. On the pitch he works his socks off, but as a fitness professional myself I find his attitude off the pitch unacceptable. To see a player like Rooney sometimes overweight is astounding in the modern age.
He held United to ransom in 2010. Fergie assessed his options and thought they needed him more than vice versa. With two years left on that contract, now is the time to get the most money back whilst not being hurt in the striking department.
Ferguson selected the intelligence and touch of the veteran Ryan Giggs and the impressive thoughtful movement of Danny Welbeck – an attacker who is looking to add goals to his otherwise notable overall contribution – and until that dubious red card it looked like United may pull off a famous victory. To not pick one of your marquee players in the biggest of games is a statement by the fearless manager.
Rooney will not accept being a squad player. Nor will United get value for his astronomical wages by not playing him. Finding a bidder at this point makes sense for both parties.
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