Rooney must impress Mourinho or risk becoming a fringe player at Man United
With five Premier League titles to his name, there's no question that Wayne Rooney has been a principal character in Manchester United's recent past.But how much of a role will he have to play in Manchester United's future? New manager Jose Mourinho has long been an admirer of the England captain and tried to sign him for Chelsea in 2013, but three years is an eternity in modern football. Rooney's powers are fading and it's no longer clear where exactly he should be operating on the pitch.
Mourinho is quite clear where he shouldn't be operating. Don't expect him to play in the midfield this season, as he did for England this summer.
"For me, he will never be a No. 6, playing 50 metres from the goal," Mourinho said earlier this month. "You can tell me his pass is amazing, but my pass is also amazing without pressure. To be there and put the ball in the net is the most difficult thing. For me, he will be a 9, a 10, a 9½, but never a 6 or an 8."
And yet far from clarifying the situation, Mourinho has only limited the possibilities to a more manageable range of positions. The problem for Rooney is that it's hard to argue that he's the superior player in any of them.
Memories of his ill-fated adventures in France are still raw. In what might have been the worst England performance in living memory, Rooney was breathtakingly awful. His first touch went completely, his entire game collapsed and he was withdrawn, too late, by a despairing Roy Hodgson. He was far from the only player to capitulate against Iceland, but as the captain, as the most senior player, as the top goal scorer, his culpability was all the more critical.
Up front, goals are few and far between for Rooney now. Last season brought only eight in the league, the first campaign in which Rooney has failed to break double figures since he arrived at Old Trafford in 2004. Only 12 were scored in the preceding season. For this, there have been many contributory factors. United weren't particularly good under Louis van Gaal, playing slowly and without any real potency. But Rooney hasn't impressed, tending to look leaden-footed and lethargic when he's in the final third. Mourinho had plenty of time to watch United last season and he would have drawn his own conclusions.