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The question of where to play Wayne Rooney continues as ‘striker’ ties goalscoring record

wayne-rooney

Louis Van Gaal has a reputation for being autocratic and dictatorial. Although you wouldn’t know it during his brief spell in England as manager of Manchester United, as the Dutchman seems particularly willing to any and all media suggestions regarding where he should play his captain, (and thus the player who seems guaranteed to play the most amount of games), Wayne Rooney.

In his first season in charge, Rooney often played in midfield, either in the center as a box-to-box player, or on the right of a diamond. The press were not enamored. After a poor display against Big Sam’s West Ham United The Guardian wrote:

“This was another tortured attacking display in a 1-1 draw against a West Ham team who will be disappointed not to have won, and during which Wayne Rooney in particular was too often found lurking somewhere behind Antonio Valencia, United’s right-back. If Van Gaal really doesn’t want to play Rooney as a centre forward he should probably go all the way and drop him. It is hard to imagine Rooney not offering a more purposeful display of Premier League centre-forward play than Falcao here.”

Towards the end of the season, the same paper wrote:

“For years Wayne Rooney has scored and made goals, despite playing in front of a purported midfield that bore greater resemblance to the middle of a field. Relocating him to it deprived the team of its most likely scorer.”

SEE MORE: What is wrong with Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney?

Those astute observers! Barney Ronay, the journalist that penned the match report, had hit upon the strangeness of playing someone who will soon be his country and club’s record scorer in midfield. Rooney is a striker, and he should play as a striker.

Undoubtedly swayed by England’s sage media knowledge, Van Gaal decided Rooney is so much better as a center-forward that he is the only experienced striker left on the books at Old Trafford after the shutting of the transfer window.

The move has not had the desired effect. United’s attack is as stilted as it was last season with Falcao or Robin Van Persie leading the line, and arguably their midfield lacks the dynamism Rooney added.

The Guardian (who else?, this is a paper that devotes so much writing to football that it is a separate section, set apart from the Sports section that writes about more mundane activities), has expressed an about-turn from its previous declarations. Now Barney Ronay (the same guy from above) says:

“Let’s be honest, asking Rooney to play as Manchester United’s chief – and indeed only – centre-forward at this point in his career feels a bit like forcing a middle-aged man out on stage to disco dance.”

I could post contradictory quotes from a variety of football journalists working for a variety of publications all day, but they would all raise the same questions. How can someone who last year had to play as striker to be effective, now be completely useless as a striker when he’s not even a full year older? How as “this point in his career” changed so much from the last season’s point in his career?

This only further reinforces the point that the broadsheets and tabloids don’t exist for informative journalism, but rather to produce stories and opinions that sell and create debate, regardless of whether that requires ‘fluid’ opinions.

As for Wayne Rooney, who by the end of this international break should be his country’s all-time leading scorer, at least until January, there shouldn’t really be any debate about where he will play. He is the only experienced, proven, striker at the club. The alternatives are newly signed teenager Anthony Martial, slightly more experienced teenager James Wilson, or not-a-striker last resort Marouane Fellaini.

There may be a case for playing two up front, or with Rooney slightly behind Martial in a link role (but definitely not any further back), depending on how well the Frenchman adapts to Premier League football.

Due to the lack of evidence about his style of play and the runs he makes, Martial may hit the ground running (similar to Nikita Jelavic when he first moved to Everton and lots of defenders weren’t used to his habit of making near post runs). This would ease the burden on Rooney to play up top most of the time, but if that doesn’t happen he would have to be expected to be United’s main goal scoring avenue until January.

In any case this was a man who had a hat-trick in Champions League qualification not too long ago and would have opened his Premier League account on the opening day itself if not for an own-goal against Tottenham.

Rooney has never ended up with single-figure tallies in a Premier League season during his tenure with Manchester United, and even finished United’s disastrous David Moyes season with 17 strikes. He’ll be fine as a striker, no matter what the media would have you believe.

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