Rooney’s new role
Reds captain wants to be the next Scholes
Wayne Rooney expressed hope that a new era at Manchester United was slowly being ushered in and Ander Herrera suggested they were “cooking up a fantastic team”.
It took Michael Carrick to sound a note of caution and remind people that only a fortnight earlier “everything was a disaster” in the wake of a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur that dealt a damaging blow to United’s prospects of a top-four finish. “This doesn’t change the whole thing,” the midfielder said after Anthony Martial’s wonderful stoppage-time winner against Everton on Saturday swept United into their first FA Cup final for nine years.
There is a persuasive case to argue that Louis van Gaal has stumbled upon a promising formula by accident rather than design and, with Jose Mourinho ready and willing to step in, even a Cup triumph against Crystal Palace on May 21 may not be enough to earn the Dutchman another stab at things next season.
Van Gaal offered a curious response when asked about the potential of the club’s vibrant young generation, spearheaded by Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard and shored up at the back by goalkeeper David de Gea and, no doubt when he returns from injury, Luke Shaw. “We need quick, crea- tive players,” the manager said. “That’s a tricky remark of me because I have to manage players whose quality is not always what I want.”
Van Gaal’s comment conveniently ignores a few hard truths. He signed the sort of “quick, creative” player he craves at great expense in Ángel di María but could not manage the Argentina winger and sold him after a year.
Another wide player purchased for a hefty fee – Memphis Depay – has fallen flat. And the entire squad has been reshaped very much to his choosing. Ultimately, though, he has been rescued time and again by youngsters who have played far more than he planned (Martial) or been thrown in unexpectedly (Rashford, Lingard) because of a debilitating injury list and some questionable transfer decisions.
Still, it was out of dark origins that Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo emerged over a decade ago to lead United into a bright new dawn, and while expectations should be tempered, there are green shoots of recovery.
Rooney knows what it is like to be a teenage superstar, having joined United from Everton at 18, and said he feels a responsibility to cultivate and cajole Martial, Rashford and others now in much the same way as Ryan Giggs helped to nurture his Old Trafford career.
“When I joined the club at 18, Giggsy was about 30 and I saw the help and advice he gave me at that age so if I can help those young players in any way now I’m happy to do that,” the United and England captain said.
“Playing at Man United, whether you’re 18 or 30, you have to take some sort of responsibility and the young lads are handling that really well. Obviously it’s early days, especially for Rashford, but the impact he has had has been huge for us.
“With the start Anthony had he wasn’t going to go on like that for the whole season but he is coming up with some big goals and you can see the enjoyment in his game.
“I’ve been helping them but not only that – they can help me as well. You’re always learning.”
Rooney certainly seemed at home in a free-roaming midfield position, and as a debate rages over whether he should start up front for England at Euro 2016, a new role has provided some fresh food for thought for manager Roy Hodgson.
“I have played with and watched Paul Scholes in that role for years and I always knew that one day it is where I would play so I have tried to learn and watch what he did,” Rooney said. “I don’t know [if I can play there for England]. That is a decision for Roy Hodgson.”
United fashioned multiple chances, then made life difficult for themselves after Chris Smalling’s own goal nullified Marouane Fellaini’s first-half strike, before Martial claimed that last-gasp winner.
Romelu Lukaku will rue two spurned opportunities as well as his missed penalty (albeit brilliantly saved by De Gea) but Everton manager Roberto Martínez, like Van Gaal a man under pressure, could at least take comfort from his team’s spirited second-half showing.
It was United’s day though, and Rooney believes victory in the final would be the spur the club needs. “It could be massive for us and would hopefully be the start of us getting back and winning trophies,” he said. “It is almost a new squad we have and we haven’t had it easy over the last couple of years so if we win the Cup it will be a huge stepping stone for us.”
Pulling the strings: Wayne Rooney thrives in a free-roaming midfield role