As Premier League teams pick up their pre-season preparations, TEAMtalk focuses on six stars with more to prove than most – with five English players on the list.
“Sometimes you have to make choices in your career and at the minute it’s probably better for me to play deeper. Next season with Manchester United, that’s where I see myself playing.”
The Manchester United captain’s transition from striker to midfielder was going swimmingly, so far as he had managed to convince seemingly everyone that he has what it takes to be a deep-lying playmaker. More of a 6 than a 10. Louis van Gaal fell for it; Roy Hodgson fell for it. Jose Mourinho, though, is smarter than the average coach.
The new United boss used his first press conference at Old Trafford to put Rooney in his place. And that’s not in midfield.
“Maybe he’s not a striker any more. Maybe he is not a No 9 anymore but he will never, with me, be a No.6,” said Mourinho. “He will never be 50 metres from the goal. For me he will be a No 9 or a No 10 or a nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6 or even a No 8.”
Rooney can be forgiven for wondering where that leaves him. Given Mourinho’s recruitment this summer, it seems only the No.10 role is open to him, and it is not a position he has thrived in previously.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start as United’s centre-forward, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Rooney and others like Ashley Young and Memphis Depay vying for the three attacking spots behind the central striker. The captaincy, which gave Rooney special privileges before, may earn the 31-year-old the first crack at the No.10 role, but those privileges won’t carry much weight if he doesn’t shine from the off.
Remember that season when Berahino bagged 20 goals? It only a year ago, but so much has gone on around the West Brom striker since then that it feels like far more of a distant memory.
No one comes out of Berahino’s last 12 months particularly well but the striker has to bare most of the responsibility for his slide in status. Only 18 months ago, the 22-year-old was being linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham. Usually Tottenham.
Despite his best efforts, Berahino couldn’t engineer a move to Spurs last summer. The result of that failure was a lost season for the centre-forward. He scored just four goals in the Premier League as he drifted in and out of the side in between transfer sagas and rows with the West Brom management.
Things certainly haven’t panned out in the best interests of West Brom either. Whereas a year ago they a 20-goal striker and a asset worth in excess of £20million – or £25million as they believed – now they have on the books a dispirited, out-of-form forward with only a year left on his deal and still seeing a new challenge.
That certainly won’t come at the top of the Premier League, as once it might. Not two years after being chased by the big boys, it is now Stoke, Crystal Palace and Watford showing a little more than a casual interest providing there is a deal to be done.
Perhaps it is a sideways step that Berahino needs to restart his career and get back into the England squad.
Wilshere’s talent is not in question but whether he can stay fit to apply it most certainly is.
The Arsenal midfielder played just 141 minutes of Premier League football for Arsenal last season, before Roy Hodgson chose to take him to Euro 2016, where the 24-year-old performed exactly like he’d played only a game-and-half’s-worth of top flight action.
His injury problems have been a shame, of course. But because of the glimpses he has shown on the few occaisions he has been able to string games together, Wilshere has had more patience than almost anyone else.
That is now wearing extremely thin. It is perhaps unfair to put pressure on a player to quickly overcome adversity that is beyond his control, but Wilshere is approaching middle age for a footballer without getting close to fulfilling the potential that led both Arsene Wenger and Hodgson to label him a future England captain.
Wilshere simply has to get minutes under his belt next season, all the while rediscovering the form that made him one of Europe’s hottest prospects.
Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling
Both Manchester City stars have plenty to do after suffering indifferent seasons at club level and utterly miserable summers at Euro 2016.
With Pep Guardiola arriving at the Etihad and expected to overhaul the his squad, the England pair were seen as among the safest on the books. Sterling, perhaps, more so than Hart, but Guardiola had many more greater priorities than strengthening his goalkeeping department.
If City’s deficiencies elsewhere had saved Hart, his displays at the Euros dropped him right in. Few players’ stock tumbled in France as steeply as Hart’s after conceding four goals from only five shots on target, with two of those exposing a left wrist made of papier-mache. Hart, not unusually, seemed a little too keen to be seen, whether it was when he was booming out the national anthem, screaming in the tunnel, running the length of the pitch to celebrate a goal or “fronting up” on an all-too-regular basis.
Guardiola would prefer a goalkeeper who would resist the urge to ‘hold his hands up’ for long enough to be able to use them to catch a ball. The new boss, who reportedly wasn’t entirely enamoured before the summer with the prospect of Hart as his custodian, has almost certainly been looking around for a No.1 more to his taste, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen repeatedly linked. The Barca stopper, though, looks to be going nowhere, so it appears that Hart may get the benefit of the doubt. Only temporarily, though, unless the 29-year-old gets his act together quickly.
Sterling seems a little more secure at City, with Guardiola having spoken to the winger during the tournament to offer encouragement through what was a torrid time for the 21-year-old. That said, the £49million speedster still has much to do to convince anyone he deserves to be a regular starter under the new regime, even if the exorbitant fee City paid Liverpool had nothing to do with him.
During his first season at Manchester United, the £25million recruit was a poor imitation of the attacking star he was at PSV Eindhoven. Many thought Depay was well suited to the Premier League and that Louis van Gaal would get the best out of him from the start at Old Trafford. They were all wrong.
Depay showed flashes in Europe but almost nothing in domestic action, scoring only two goals and contributing one assist in 29 league appearances. Van Gaal offered no favours to his compatriot and it was thought Mourinho may be even more unforgiving.
Though there has been plenty of talk of an Old Trafford cull, Depay has escaped being the focus of any of it. Indeed, reports on Wednesday suggested Mourinho wants only a 24-man squad, with Depay as part of that.
Depay appears to realise he’s on currently on borrowed time, with the 22-year-old posting a number of videos of him working hard to be as fit as possible for the start of pre-season. From them, we might assume his attitude has improved and perhaps the penny has dropped. He certainly wouldn’t be the first young foreign player to settle after a rocky debut season, but Depay’s minutes may be limited early on. He simply has to seize every opportunity he is given, starting in pre-season.