People, especially soccer fans and soccer journalists, do have a short memory. We are reminded of this only too often.
One of the latest discussion points in the world of (English) soccer has been Louis van Gaal’s appointment of Wayne Rooney as captain of Manchester United. Fans and, perhaps especially, journalists and “experts” have been quick to question van Gaal’s choice. The Dutch manager explained in no equivocal way his choice of Rooney for the prestigious role: “Wayne has shown a great attitude towards everything he does. I have been very impressed by his professionalism and his attitude to training and to my philosophy. He is a great inspiration to the younger members of the team and I believe he will put his heart and soul into his captaincy role.” Before actually appointing Rooney the new captain of United, van Gaal had already hinted that nationality and culture were important parameters in his considerations: “I think you have to choose, when it is possible, for the English style.”
To me, van Gaal’s arguments quite simply make sense. Rooney has been a leading figure at Old Trafford for a decade, both as a player and a personality, and this makes him the obvious choice. In addition, van Gaal underlines Rooney’s intellectual ability to absorb the new “philosophy” as well as his emotional investment into the role. In short, he’s got both the brain and the heart to fulfill the role.
Van Gaal could have gone for Robin van Persie, his (soccer) philosophical soul mate, but van Persie does not have the Old Trafford history of Rooney, and his injury record and age may also have persuaded van Gaal to look elsewhere. With the necessary squad overhaul looming large in the near future back in July and August, van Gaal could not be certain that the likes of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, two other obvious candidates, would be able to maintain a regular spot in what he hoped would be a re-vamped Manchester United team. Finally, David de Gea, apparently the only one apart from van Gaal’s captain who may be sure of a starting spot, does not fit the captain’s bill in terms of personality, experience, and authority.
So, what is it that the many Rooney-critical voices have been complaining about? Well, first of all there has been the “Paul Parker side” claiming that Rooney has played awful soccer this season and that he hasn’t been able to lift the team when this was needed the most (lethargy against Burnley, collapse against Leicester). I simply don’t agree with this. To me, Rooney has been one of United’s best performers this season. It may be that Van Gaal himself has contributed to this strand of criticism by saying that Rooney played well as a forward (against QPR) but not “spectacularly”, and that he thought Radamel Falcao might do a better striking job. But van Gaal nevertheless kept Rooney in his team by moving him into the whole behind the two strikers and thus pushing Mata out on the bench.