One of the more baffling aspects of Wayne Rooney’s new contract, the one making him the highest paid player in the Premier League, is that no one has a clear idea of where he should be playing.
OK, he plays behind the striker for Manchester United and David Moyes appears happy to continue that trend. But the question arises because of Juan Mata, the £37 million back-to-back Player of the Year at Chelsea, three years Rooney’s junior, who excelled in the No.10 role. It shouldn’t matter how much Rooney is being paid, you don’t buy a player far superior to him in every aspect and then go on to limit his input on a team.
Mata is the type of player you buy to build a team around. How new he is to life at Old Trafford or that he was bought midway through the season is irrelevant; such has been the fragile state of United’s season and their lack of bite in the final third that you throw a playmaker of that calibre into the area of the pitch where he’ll be most influential.
So while Rooney’s new contract shatters the barrier into complete lunacy, what exactly is the long-term game plan for the club and from Moyes? United essentially have four No.10s or playmakers if we’re counting Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj, who holds long-term ambitions for that position.
Robin van Persie isn’t a forward that relies heavily on pace, rather his intelligence and movement in and around the penalty area. And let’s be honest, the Dutchman is so good that when the time is right for the club to bring in a new centre-forward, which they may well do in the summer, van Persie can move into the No.10 position himself and continue to have an important role at the club.
Rooney’s contract has been labelled as a desperate move by the club, which is difficult to refute. And yet it looks like a move which has done more to keep him out of the clutches of a Premier League rival than to build anything successful or indeed coherent over the next five years.
Rooney hasn’t developed into the star player most assumed he would. He isn’t in the same league as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. He isn’t even a rival to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He isn’t Manchester United’s best striker, nor is he their best playmaker. He is United’s most disruptive influence. He is the player who will try to dictate, or at least nudge, where the club go in terms of transfers. Why else would he want to be kept in the loop in something that really shouldn’t concern him?
There have been a few dampened and quiet calls for what this whole thing is, so why not face up to the argument (not fact) that Rooney is holding United back? Mata and van Persie, and even Januzaj, become secondary thoughts to what Rooney needs and wants. How long do those players stick around knowing so much will be owed to the league’s highest paid player?
Maybe Moyes isn’t being given enough credit here. Maybe there is a long-term on-field strategy in place that can be effective. Though is it really doing Moyes a disservice, a manager who tried to dress up 81 mostly pointless crosses into the box as a level of football intellect out of reach of the common spectator?
I’ll never subscribe to the idea that every big player sold by a major club is a show of weakness towards a rival party. It’s such a lazy, sweeping thought process that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.
What United have at present is too much of the same thing, and in this case it’s not a good thing because the manager has shown himself to be one-dimensional and endorsing of tactics that have been thrown out of the war room by leading coaches around Europe.
Good may yet come from this commitment to Rooney, but that change in perception will need to be forced from the individual tasked with navigating the coming seasons. This rigid way of thinking will need to be abandoned for something that does make good use of the tools available at Old Trafford.