Amid Manchester United‘s lukewarm form, and debates over whether the Premier League champions can overcome the inevitable hangover of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in time to stage any form of title defence this season, it’s long been forgotten that Wayne Rooney‘s future at Old Trafford was up in the air this summer.
The England international was at the epicentre of one of the summer window’s most speculated and reported transfer sagas, with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho even declaring at one point in the off-season that his summer transfer policy could be described best as ‘Rooney or bust’.
But several crisis talks later between Rooney and Ferguson’s successor David Moyes, the issue of the 27-year-old’s future was eventually put to bed by a committed and hard-working performance against his potential suitors as deadline day loomed in.
Some have claimed keeping a hold of the United striker was the Scot’s best piece of business of the summer – not that there’s too much on the transfer front at Old Trafford to compare it to – whilst others are yet to be convinced. So with nearly a quarter of the current Premier League campaign already gone, it’s time to revisit the Red Devils’ Rooney transfer saga, and ask is the new Carrington boss made the right decision.
Well, you can’t argue with Rooney’s form so far this season. If Sir Alex was eternally convinced that the England forward was by no means at his best last year, he’d have no complaints this term. Wazza Roo has recorded five goals and three assists in eight appearances for his efforts in the Premier League and Champions League combined this season, in addition to goals against Montenegro and Poland for the Three Lions. The retired icon even admitted in a press conference for his new autobiography today that the striker is finally back to his best.
If the Red Devils had handed over that sort of firepower to Chelsea in the summer, it would have undoubtedly left them rather blue in the face. The West Londoners pose the biggest threat to United’s title defence this season, but a lack of efficiency in the final third has been by far their biggest flaw.
Jose Mourinho is currently rotating between Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o with limited effect – the striking trio have found just one Premier League goal between them this year – and one can only imagine the extent at which Chelsea could be dominating proceedings in the English top flight if they had Rooney operating at full throttle to spearhead their attacks at the moment.
But under Sir Alex Ferguson the Red Devils had a knack of spotting and anticipating Premier League trends, and subsequently acting upon them. My concern with Rooney is that his style of play is slowly becoming a thing of the past in the English top flight, especially in his dual role at the tip of United’s midfield.
The roles and services of Premier League No.10’s have been a common feature in punditry discussions this season, and as many of football’s talking heads will tell you, there’s no concrete definition of what a number 10 should do, or specific attributes they should possess. Rather, the number 10 role is designed to assure a wealth of quality, especially in the final third.
Not that Rooney hasn’t or won’t continue to do that for United, but the overall trend for the Premier League’s current no.10’s is a greater emphasis on technical ability, creativity on the ball and flair – such as Oscar at Chelsea, Christian Erkisen at Tottenham, Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool for example – rather than the battering-ram robustness of the England international.
There’s something to be said for having the most pivotal influence in the England national team conducting play from the tip of midfield; it certainly serves Manchester United’s typically English identity and ethos well. But a playmaker, Rooney quite frankly is not – his pass completion rate this season is at just 75%, distinctly less than his divisional counterparts – although he’s certainly maintained a respectable impression of one since Robin Van Persie joined the Old Trafford ranks in summer 2012.
Yet, as David Moyes is condemned by Usain Bolt and other sectors of the United faithful for failing to source any creative quality in the middle of the park over the summer to replace the playmaking influence of Paul Scholes, one can only wonder if Rooney’s presence in his attacking midfield role has reduced the United gaffer’s scope to bring in a flair player from the continent that would have undoubtedly alleviated the apparent creative crisis going forward United currently find themselves in.
The Red Devils were reportedly offered the services of Mesut Ozil during the summer by Real Madrid for a £40million fee, but where would the world-class German international actually fit into Moyes’s starting line-up, especially after making the ultimate decision to keep Rooney this summer, rather than let him go.
Whether I’m right or wrong, United have made their bed, and now they and Rooney must both lie in it. New Chief Executive Ed Woodward quipped in the summer that he wasn’t afraid of letting a player’s contract run down, in specific reference to the England international, but words are one thing and actions are another, and it seems implausible that the Manchester United management would allow Rooney’s current deal to simply expire in 2015, for his potential worth on the transfer market more than anything else.
Having decided Rooney’s fate in the summer, Moyes is compelled to offer him a new deal, that will most likely include a pay-rise, or flog him at the end of the season, which will only seem like a more absurd notion than it did during the previous transfer window if the England striker maintains his goal-scoring form for the rest of the season. And at that point, the Red Devils will be faced with the same conundrum regarding Rooney’s potential departure; his only suitors are other Premier League clubs.
If there was a chance to shift the England international for any respectable profit, it’s well and truly gone – not that the Premier League champions are in the market to make money.
But my concern remains tactically-based, rather than any and consideration for United’s financial gain. Rooney is more than capable of taking up an attacking midfield role, but it’s by no means a position that accommodates for his finer qualities, or one that he considers to be his strongest personally.
His style of play limits United’s creativity, but until Robin Van Persie’s footballing abilities begin to decline, it’s the only regular spot in the Red Devils’ starting line-up the England international will receive.
It may have been an incredibly controversial move, and one that would have undoubtedly raised several awkward questions at the start of David Moyes’ Old Trafford tenure, but letting Rooney leave for pastures new in the summer, on the back of his second transfer request in the space of three years, may well have been the better solution for the Premier League champions in the long run.
The 27 year-old is undoubtedly an exceptional player, but the English top flight evolves at an eternally rapid pace, and as a result of Moyes’ decision to hold onto Rooney in the summer, the Red Devils could quickly find themselves being left behind.
Should David Moyes have sold Wayne Rooney?
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