Why have figures ‘in the game’ so far refused to publicly criticise Manchester United’s fading skipper Wayne Rooney?
It’s a valid question that is even more pertinent after another poor showing against League One side Northampton last night.
Rooney at 30 should have several years at the top level left in him, a theory which has been most recently voiced by his former United team-mate Nani.
“Rooney is a special player. Strong, fantastic quality, shooting, vision – very intelligent,” Naini told Omnisport. “I enjoyed playing with him. He is a player who is a big part of Man United.”
Change one word in that sentence to ‘was’ – the past tense – and it’s hard to disagree with the Portugal man, but his current form is a million miles away from the Rooney that powered United to title after title some years ago.
Nani to be fair is not on his own in his support of Rooney. Far from it. In fact, he has been backed to the hilt by his fellow pros, ex-pros and pundits alike, when, truth be told, he simply looks shot at.
His form at Euro 2016 was lacking and his display in the shambolic defeat to Iceland was almost unforgivable, but he has maintained that dreadful level for United this season. He has started all five Premier League games and last night’s tussle against Northampton when he again looked well short of the level he has demanded from himself over the last 10 years.
The bookies have reacted. They, earlier this week, shortened his odds to 11/2 to leave by January, while the stats do not look favourable either and the papers are all over the demise of the former Everton striker.
But so far not one ‘disciple of the game’ has been critical of Rooney in public. Phil Neville labelled his showing at Sixfields as “ok” – and that’s the sum total of criticism. In truth Rooney’s display, against inferior opposition, was not ok. He should have stood out a mile, but as soon as his early shot was gathered in by Northampton keeper Adam Smith it looked like being another one of those, ever applicable, days for the England skipper…and it was.
He was abysmal against Watford and given a 3/10 by the Manchester Evening News – a performance that prompted the local United tabloid to say he was “no longer good enough for the first team”.
They rated him as a 5/10 last night, but said he “will be lucky to keep his place”, while he was “off the boil” and a generous 6.5/10 in the defeat to Man City.
Rooney was shunted out to the right wing after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford at Sixfields and it’s looking more and more like a chore for Mourinho to fit United’s former talisman into his plans.
In July Mourinho claimed he would never play him as a midfielder, but he broke that promise against Watford and after playing as a striker against the Cobblers he again failed to convince against two journeyman centre-backs in Gabriel Zakuani and Zander Diamond; both of whom are older than Rooney.
While you expect the United old boys to close rank on Rooney, it’s bizarre that none of the other ex-pros have disclosed what is blatantly obvious to see. Loud-mouth Robbie Savage has been silent, Jamie Carragher has so far backed his fellow Scouser, while rent-a-gob Chris Sutton has not yet delivered his verdict on Rooney’s alarming form.
But in these times of “football Einsteins”, as referred to by Mourinho, the very fact that the English game’s most respected and prominent voices have failed to state the obvious, surely undermines their standing.
Can Carragher and Gary Neville continue to avoid the question on Monday Night Football? Can Harry Redknapp continue to be relevant by failing to acknowledge Rooney’s failings?
England gaffer Sam Allardyce has backed Rooney and almost conceded the United man could play where he wanted in the recent win over Slovakia and was a carte blanche pick for Russia 2018. Hardly the actions of hard-nosed, tough-talking manager and probably not really what Rooney needed in light of his current form.
Mourinho alike has so far refused to criticise Rooney, despite selling other players like Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw down the river recently. And whether he will vote with his feet and drop Rooney against Leicester on Saturday is the big talking point.
The fact that Rooney played 90 minutes in the EFL Cup suggests he could be lining up the maligned frontman with a “knock”. A mystery injury would take both manager and player out of the limelight and in the circumstances that looks highly likely. Alternatively, an angry Mourinho, who only spoke to rights holders after the win at Northampton, may decide to make a statement, stamp his authority at Old Trafford and axe his skipper.
Three games in 11 days is too much for Rooney and he needs dropping, there’s no real debate in that, but will Mourinho be bold enough to wield the axe? Whether it is dressed up as “being rested” or not, it’s a huge decision for Mourinho and one which may shape his time at the club.
If he does, don’t be surprised to finally see assenting voices from all around.
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