The record-breaking deal tacitly announced the England international as the poster-boy of the post-Ferguson era at Old Trafford, tying him down for his best years and cementing his reputation as the leading star of the Red Devils first team. After all, more than any issue of finance, Rooney’s predominant concern amid his continual ransoming of the Carrington club over the past three years has always been his status within the starting XI.
But the beautiful game doesn’t stand still for long. Rooney may historically be the Premier League’s and Manchester United’s highest earner, but could his honeymoon as United’s flagship entity soon be brought to an abrupt end by incoming manager Louis van Gaal?
Since joining the Old Trafford ranks in summer 2012, Rooney and Robin van Persie have developed a rather interesting relationship. Their strike partnership was the most prevalent source of United’s 13th Premier League title last season, but rather miffed at his role as provider to the Dutchman, murmurs of Rooney’s discontent came to the fore last summer when Sir Alex Ferguson revealed the 28 year-old had made a verbal transfer request.
Things fared much better for Wazza Roo this season – in RVP’s prolonged injury absence, the Three Lions star ended the campaign as the club’s top scorer, and one of a rare few United players who need not feel embarrassed by his own performances. Due to their prior history together at Everton too, he was very much David Moyes’ star pupil at Carrington.
Van Gaal on the other hand, is known for his adoration of the former Arsenal striker. Through the Oranje set up, the two have become incredibly close over the past two years. The United boss made Van Persie Netherlands captain in 2013, explaining; “I think you always make a player captain when you have the same morals and philosophy as they do. I believe that Van Persie and Van Gaal share the same philosophy.”
Up until now, the forward duo have co-existed in relative harmony, striking a strong understanding on the pitch and as far as an Old Trafford outsider can tell, no cause for concern off of it, barring Rooney’s alleged transfer request last summer. But that relationship is set to be tested to its maxim by Louis van Gaal, centred around two core issues.
Firstly, the vacated captaincy. Wayne Rooney has already announced his intentions to take the armband from Inter Milan-bound Nemanja Vidic next season. Some allege the role of skipper was discussed amid the 28 year-old’s contract negotiations earlier this year, and he was also included in United’s shortlist of candidates released publicly in February – van Persie on the other hand, was not.
But van Gaal will have much different ideas. As previously discussed, RVP is the heartbeat and captain of his Netherlands side. With that in mind, it would take a brave man to bet against the Dutch international taking the armband at Old Trafford too.
The second dilemma is centred around logical assumptions of van Gaal’s planned philosophy for the Red Devils. Barring a brief flirtation with 4-4-2 at AZ Alkmaar, throughout the 62 year-old’s quarter-decade management career, he’s continuously championed a 4-3-3 formation, leaving room for just one recognised striker.
Even the customary attacking midfielder in support can be considered more a freely-licensed centre-mid than a reverted centre-forward. Given that RVP will most likely be anointed United captain by van Gaal, one can only assume he’ll be given the solitary lead striking role too.
No doubt, Rooney is a multi-talented, versatile player. In theory, he could feature as the most progressive central midfielder or make either attacking-wide prong his own. But the England star has kicked up a fuss about his positioning numerous times in the past; the Independent even claim Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to play him in midfield was at the heart of his discontent last summer, and Rooney’s fielding out wide in his earlier career produced some of his most notoriously stroppy, belligerent performances.
Unfortunately for Wazza Roo, van Gaal isn’t a manager interested in compromise. At Barcelona, he fell out with Brazil legend Rivaldo, as Bolo Zenden explains; “He was winning the Golden Ball as player of the year and was playing as a left winger. Rivaldo himself thought he was better off playing behind the strikers, so as soon as he won this massive trophy he just said to Van Gaal, ‘I don’t want to play on the left no more. I want to play behind the strikers.’ Van Gaal said ‘right that’s your decision’. What followed was that he sat on the bench because the manager decided where he would play.” Some of his other well-documented fall-out alumni include Frank Ribery, Luca Toni, Luis Figo and Luico, and I’m sure we’re all aware of the infamous trouser-dropping team-talk anecdote.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, agent Paul Stretford has a knack of developing any situation regarding Rooney’s happiness or future at Old Trafford into a distractingly volatile one.
Between van Gaal, van Persie and the England international, there will be a power struggle at Old Trafford next season. Rooney has tantrumed into getting his own way for the last year or so, but that will quickly change under the next United boss – after all, a £300k per-week contract certainly gives you a lot of clout around Carrington, but it will mean nothing in the self-idolising, never-mistaken mind of Louis van Gaal.