By IAN LADYMAN
The prospect of watching Wayne Rooney play with Robin van Persie is as exciting as anything Manchester United fans have anticipated since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo three summers ago.
But any more performances like the one Rooney contributed on Monday at Goodison Park and United’s No 10 may struggle to get in the team.
For years Rooney has been United’s fulcrum. Even when Ronaldo was in his pomp, many thought that the Liverpudlian — rather than the Portugal star — was Sir Alex Ferguson’s most important player.
But after a summer in which Rooney performed modestly at best in two Euro 2012 matches for England, the 26-year-old returned to Barclays Premier League action in the defeat at Everton this week with adisplay as laboured as many observers have seen.
There is always a danger of over-reaction when teams suffer setbacks, especially so when United are involved. From that point of view, those clamouring on social network sites late on Monday night for Rooney to be dropped are best ignored.
Nevertheless, now that he has the competition for places he asked for when threatening to leave United two years ago, there is a responsibility for England’s most gifted footballer to raise his game a little.
Rooney rarely performs well back on Merseyside. At former club Everton and at Anfield he often seems to have too much to prove. On this occasion, though, it wasn’t exuberance that hampered him, rather a sluggishness that is so rare as to make it notable.
Certainly Rooney — along with Van Persie — will be in Ferguson’s team to face Fulham at home this Saturday.
Now that United’s tail has been tweaked, Martin Jol’s team may have good reason to fear the backlash.
Rooney, though, will be aware that Ferguson has other options this season. United’s best player on Monday was the Japan star Shinji Kagawa, who moved intelligently between Everton’s defensive lines to cause the home team sporadic moments of discomfort.
Kagawa has the ability to play as a second striker behind Van Persie, as of course does England man Danny Welbeck.
United have made it clear this week that neither Javier Hernandez or Nani will be sold in this transfer window, so Ferguson has yet more options in midfield and attack. The manager will be pleased. At times in recent years he has looked a little short of options.
As for Rooney, it is to be hoped the arrival of new bodies will nudge him to higher levels.
United finally solved their left back conundrum yesterday when they confirmed the signing of 23-year-old Dutch left back Alexander Buttner from Vitesse Arnhem.
They also confirmed last night that 18-year-old Chilean starlet Angelo Henriquez has been granted a governing body endorsement allowing the striker to register and play for United after his £4m move from Universidad de Chile.