The rather lacklustre form of Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney has to a great extent typified his side’s struggles on this pitch this season. Rumours have been circulating for a while now that the 30-year-old is set to leave Old Trafford in the summer, and with England manager Roy Hodgson in the process of finalising his plans for Euro 2016, it’s set to be a crucial next few months for Rooney on two fronts.
After nearly 12 years at the club, Rooney is quite rightly considered as one of United’s greatest players of all time. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that this has been the striker’s most disappointing campaign in a United shirt to date. With only seven league goals to his name this term, many have jumped to the conclusion that Rooney’s best days are now behind him.
His below-par performance levels have only been made to look worse by the impressive displays of summer recruit Anthony Martial (who has scored eight league goals in his first season in England) and the emergence of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford (who has netted four goals in eight league appearances so far). It’s fair to say that these two youngsters have been shining lights in what has been a season of gloom for the Red Devils for the most part.
Despite having spent in excess of £250 million since his arrival at Old Trafford, boss Louis Van Gaal has again failed to challenge for the Premier League title this season. Regardless of whether the Dutchman remains in charge or not, United will surely be digging into their pockets once more in the off-season, which could of course have implications on Rooney’s own future. Both of these factors has led some to suggest that Rooney will seek a fresh challenge next year, perhaps being tempted into becoming the next big-name addition to the MLS or the Chinese Super League.
Rooney’s erratic club form has also prompted questions about his place in the national side. Only in September, Rooney surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record of 49 international goals. Yet the terrific form of both Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy means that both of them could well be leading the line for England at the upcoming Euros. In which case, can Rooney fit into this forward line too?
The recent 3-2 win over Germany, in which both Kane and Vardy scored, demonstrated that England are certainly not dependant on Rooney. The performance in Berlin was praised for its attacking intensity and, on the face of it, it would appear as if there are better goal-scoring options than the Manchester United man at this moment in time. Hence the widespread calls for a Three Lions side to be picked on form rather than reputation. What’s more, the likes of Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling are arguably more compatible with Hodgson’s favoured 4-3-3 formation than the captain himself.
Nevertheless, Hodgson has consistently stated that Rooney remains a major part of his plans for the Euros – he was England’s top scorer in Euro qualification after all. It would be equally foolish to overlook Rooney’s international goal-scoring record (51 goals in 109 games), and his experience on the big stage could well be the perfect complement to an otherwise more youthful England starting XI. So perhaps a more suitable question to ask would be where exactly Rooney fits into this side. Whether he plays up top or more as a number 10, it goes without saying that Hodgson would be a brave man not to start his trusted marksman.
After a two-month spell on the sidelines, Rooney made an encouraging return to action last weekend against Aston Villa. While there’s still time left in the season for the United captain to cement his place in both United’s and England’s future plans, there appears little he can do to change the growing tide of opinion that he is past his peak however.