Wayne Rooney’s recent thigh injury may have been one of those silver linings among the dark clouds. In truth, the England international has not been up to scratch in recent times, prompting many to question whether he should be dropped altogether in favour of new signings Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie. But the injury took some of the heat off Rooney, and with Alex Ferguson talking up his attacking options for the season, he’s undoubtedly trying to force a rise from his long time talisman.
It’s not been good enough from Rooney, and you’d like to think he’s aware of it himself. Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez recently spoke out about his own form this season, stating that he’d give himself a rating of five with plenty of room for improvement. It’s a good and necessary acknowledgement of a player’s flaws and his form, but Sanchez’s admission of it should also be a good sign for Tito Vilanova.
Wayne Rooney, however, needs to be on form and playing at his very best far more consistently than he has. Manchester United do not have the personnel to fall back on that equals Barcelona’s resources, and Rooney really has to be doing better than a great scoring season once every other year.
It’s clear that van Persie’s signing was a necessity even if those funds could have been spent equally well elsewhere. It’s also a little interesting that Ferguson has spoken about the depth and quality in his attack when the reality is they haven’t been great. Javier Hernandez needs to return to the form of his first season in England and Danny Welbeck doesn’t appear to be a striker who will bag 20 goals a season; he’s certainly not higher up the pecking order than Rooney.
But what else can Ferguson do to let Rooney know that he has to take control of his ability and have a lasting impact on Manchester United’s season. He can score goals but when was the last time he looked world class? Has he ever looked like the player that was once spoken of as the English equivalent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? He’s capable of the spectacular but how long do we have to wait for one of those moments again? How long can United afford to wait for one of those moments again?
Van Persie’s first goal for his new club was outstanding, it was a work of genius, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from the Dutchman. His injuries have always clouded his career but goals such as those have been in locker with plenty of examples. Is he a challenge to Rooney’s crown at United? I think there would be a problem if he wasn’t looking to stake his claim as the best in the red half of Manchester. But that’s what Rooney needs, he needs someone who is genuinely on his level in terms of quality and with the scoring power to change games. Rooney needs an internal challenge to get himself back to his best. The Premier League wants to see the Rooney that rose to the occasion against Barcelona at Wembley and against Manchester City at Old Trafford.
Rooney’s reputation shouldn’t force him into the starting XI for either Manchester United or England, but for too long that has been the case because neither team has anyone that’s an equal or better. Van Persie changes that at United, as well as Kagawa in the role behind the striker. It forces Rooney to pull up his socks and fight for a place with goals and high level performances. It also forces him to keep a clear head and avoid meaningless red card incidents or displays of immaturity. As soon as he’s out of the team for a handful of games, he’ll find it incredibly difficult to get back in.