Mour­inho’s dilemma: What to do with Wayne Rooney

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Jose Mour­inho is fac­ing the big­gest ques­tion of his short reign as Manch­ester United man­ager: What to do with Wayne Rooney?

While most of United’s top play­ers were benched or rested en­tirely for the English League game against third-tier Northamp­ton on Wed­nes­day, Rooney played the full 90 min­utes — less than three days be­fore a big Premier League match against cham­pion Le­ices­ter.

There could be two ex­pla­na­tions for this se­lec­tion: Mour­inho ei­ther wanted his cap­tain out on the field to lead the team in a po­ten­tially tricky away cup tie; or there’s a chance Rooney could be left out at the week­end.

In a terse tele­vi­sion in­ter­view be­fore the Northamp­ton game, Mour­inho was twice asked what he wanted from Rooney. “Goals,” came the re­ply from the stern­faced Por­tuguese coach, both times.

United won 3-1 but Rooney, who started the match as a cen­tral striker be­fore drop­ping deeper in the sec­ond half, did not score.

The Rooney dilemma — where to play him, if at all — is hang­ing over Mour­inho and won’t go away, be­cause it’s the most hotly de­bated is­sue in English foot­ball at present.

Rooney was re­stored to his fa­vored No. 10 po­si­tion by Mour­inho for this sea­son, af­ter fin­ish­ing last sea­son as a cen­tral mid­fielder for United and Eng­land’s na­tional team. But it re­mains ques­tion­able if he is do­ing enough to jus­tify his place, and if this po­si­tional switch might be sti­fling the ef­fec­tive­ness of worl­drecord sign­ing Paul Pogba and new star striker Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic.

Pogba is be­ing played as one of two deep-ly­ing play­ers in cen­tral mid­field, with Rooney ahead of him, even though the France in­ter­na­tional is bet­ter suited in a three-man mid­field that al­lows him more free­dom to at­tack and not be overly con­cerned with his de­fen­sive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — sim­i­lar to how he played at Ju­ven­tus. It seems strange to spend $116 mil­lion on a player and not adapt the team to his strengths.

Ibrahi­movic, mean­while, is a cen­ter for­ward who likes to roam where he wants, and he en­joyed huge tac­ti­cal free­dom at Paris Saint-Ger­main, his for­mer club. But his ten­dency to im­pro­vise on a whim can also un­bal­ance teams. For ex­am­ple, if Ibrahi­movic is drop­ping deep to get more in­volved in play then that space is al­ready be­ing oc­cu­pied by Rooney.

Given the pres­ence of Pogba and Ibrahi­movic, a 4-3-3 for­ma­tion with no au­then­tic No. 10 could be the way for­ward for United.

Rooney, who has been at United since 2004, has had his mo­ments this sea­son, no­tably set­ting up Marcus Rash­ford for a last­minute win­ner at Hull and also sup­ply­ing a bril­liant right-wing cross that Ibrahi­movic headed home in a vic­tory against Southamp­ton. He still has an ex­cel­lent foot­ball brain, a good range of pass­ing, and an ex­em­plary work rate.

Crit­ics, though, ar­gue Rooney has lost his pace and ex­plo­sive­ness, and there­fore is slow­ing down United’s at­tack­ing tempo. He had a par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­point­ing game in United’s 3-1 loss at Wat­ford on Sun­day, its third de­feat in a row over nine days.

Here are Mour­inho’s op­tions go­ing for­ward re­gard­ing Rooney:

KEEP HIM AS NO. 10

Rooney is United’s — and Eng­land’s — cap­tain and needs four more goals to be­come the club’s all-time record scorer, top­ping Bobby Charl­ton’s 249 goals.

Given time, he might im­prove his part­ner­ship with Ibrahi­movic, while Pogba might learn how to bet­ter op­er­ate in a mid­field two. Rooney hasn’t been among the play­ers pub­licly crit­i­cized in re­cent weeks by Mour­inho, who has long been a fan of the player.

CHANGE PO­SI­TION

Rooney fin­ished the Northamp­ton game on the right of a front three also con­tain­ing Ibrahi­movic and Rash­ford. He is hard-work­ing, has played the wide role be­fore, and United’s other wingers — An­thony Mar­tial, Jesse Lin­gard and Mem­phis De­pay — are hardly in the best form.

Maybe Rooney could stay there, as part of a 4-3-3 for­ma­tion or with a team­mate like Juan Mata or Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan in the No. 10 role.

Then again, Mour­inho said in his first news con­fer­ence as United man­ager: “For me, he will be a nine, he will be a 10, he will be a nine-and-a-half.” That sug­gests Rooney will be a cen­tral striker or a deep-ly­ing striker.

DROP HIM

The last man­ager to drop Rooney was Alex Ferguson, in the fi­nal sea­son of his near-27-year reign. It al­most led to Rooney leav­ing United.

Mour­inho could do the same in an at­tempt to get more out of Pogba, give Ibrahi­movic more space to rove in at­tack, and in­ject some more pace into the for­ward line.

Over at Manch­ester City, Pep Guardi­ola has shown his tough streak in drop­ping two club greats in Joe Hart and Yaya Toure early in his ten­ure. Is Mour­inho ready to make a sim­i­lar state­ment?

Spec­u­la­tion has been sur­round­ing Mour­inho whether should play or bench Wayne Rooney

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