The immediate future of Manchester United’s captain and all-time record goalscorer Wayne Rooney has been a recurring subject of debate throughout the season, further amplified since the turn of 2017 by his continued absence from Jose Mourinho’s starting XI.
Will he leave Old Trafford this summer? Will the former Evertonian return to his boyhood club? Will he mimic David Beckham and revolutionise the MLS? Will he make the big-money move to China? Perhaps a bigger debate than the location of his next club, however, is actually Rooney’s likeliest location on the pitch – a subject that has sparked discussion and disagreement throughout his career.
The 31-year-old has served as a striker, a wide attacker, a No.10, a midfielder and even a deep-lying playmaker over the last few years, with England and United’s varying managers having diverse opinions on how he can best serve their teams.
But now into his twilight years, Rooney’s next employers will likely want to focus on just one position that gets the best out of a great player who is no longer at the full extremities of his powers, especially in physical terms.
Well, Jose Mourinho may have unearthed the answer against Burnley on Sunday, as he unexpectedly lined Rooney up as an inside forward on the left. It’s a position Wazza Roo has played before, but his effectiveness against the Clarets suggests it could well be where his future lies in the context of the next few seasons.
Indeed, as our infographic shows, Rooney not only got on the scoresheet but also provided an abundance of creativity, conjuring up three chances whilst whipping four balls into the box. He also finished up with the fourth-most touches of the ball of any player on the pitch, and weighed in defensively in typical Rooney style with two clearances.
It was a performance that reminded everybody of what Rooney can offer, even if it was against rather uninspiring opposition, and also hinted at the relevance the Three Lions skipper can still have at a high level. Although United deployed a back four against Burnley, they utilised the narrow front three we’ve come to expect more from the 3-4-3 systems taking the Premier League by storm this term.
Excelling in the inside left role and possessing all the requisites to perform consistently as one of the dual No.10s, Rooney’s display at Turf Moor showed he can still find a place in the starting XIs of modern sides – not something everybody can say after 15 seasons at professional level. Whether he’s at Manchester United or another club next season, this position seemingly suits him best at this stage of his career.