What’s behind the decline of Man United’s captain fantastic?

Manchester United have gone from topping the league to being turned over by a rampant set of Gunners. A young Frenchman exciting the fans giving hope the next big thing has arrived at Old Trafford. Louis Van Gaal going from ridicule to vindicated and everywhere in between. There’s been a lot happening on the Red Devil rollercoaster. But there is an elephant in the room, and his name is Wayne Rooney.

The most positive talk surrounding the United captain so far this season was when he broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s scoring record for England. Even this is mired in controversy. The question was asked how legitimate the record is when the teams he’s played against are placed side-by-side with those from another era. Others point to Gary Lineker’s performance in major international competitions – the last time Rooney looked at home in a major tournament for his country was back in 2004.

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As if breaking scoring records provides a protective shield, the talk now is how he’s homing in on the Manchester United all-time figure set at 249.

Before he gets there, the doubts around his form will have to be answered. For some time now there has been a quiet unease surrounding the on-field displays of their icon. What is most worrying for United fans isn’t that Rooney’s been performing poorly, it’s his look of indifference.

The fire in his belly has been put out. With most players the easy answer would be to accuse them of a lack of passion or laziness. This can’t be said of Rooney. The frequency with which he has moved position to accommodate the team must be a factor. It has certainly affected his goals return as he bounces from midfield to the forward line.

This alone can’t explain the total drop-off fans are witnessing each week. The main culprit could be the captain’s armband. It has restrained Wayne. Leading by example means staying on the pitch. This has curbed his passion, in doing so, it has dulled the look in his eyes. A cautious Rooney is a less effective one.

It can’t be used as an excuse, though. This is the player that held the club to ransom in 2010, calling their ambition into question. In the process he made Sir Alex Ferguson look like he had gone soft in his old age. The Scotsman broke the sacred rule of not having anyone bigger than the club. They gave Rooney a bumper £300,000-a-week contract and promised they would sign big players to remain dominant.

But United have been true to their word. Since then the transfer spend has escalated every season, peaking with Di Maria and continuing with £58m for Anthony Martial, the forward player hope now rests with. United were building a team around Rooney – for Rooney – and have instead got a captain that looks several years past his peak.

Fans are becoming disgruntled and Van Gaal must be wondering if there’s a time when it’s acceptable to drop his captain. Rooney must take a period of reflection. Breaking goal scoring records means nothing if he becomes ineffective for his club side at a time they need their talisman most.

In order earn his place among the pantheon of United greats he needs to remind us all of his ability on the field, not meaningless tallies on incomparable charts.

Article title: What’s behind the decline of Man United’s captain fantastic?

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