Jose Mourinho has already shown he is not afraid to make ruthless decisions as Manchester United manager. After a poor 45 minutes against Manchester City both Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were hooked at half-time and Daley Blind was subsequently dropped for the Feyenoord match after some mistakes he made in the derby.
Yet, we find ourselves on a dreary Monday after our third consecutive defeat wondering why that same logic isn’t applied to a player who is holding Man United back – Wayne Rooney.
Before I start writing this piece I want to identify a distinction which has to be made. Fans can consider Rooney a club great for everything he’s done at United whilst at the same time saying he’s clearly past it at the top level. Sharing one of those opinions does not make you a hypocrite to hold the other, they can be held in unison. That’s something not many seem to understand.
The performance against Watford summed up everything which is wrong with Rooney. Playing in a free roaming central midfield role akin to David Silva at Man City, Rooney had the responsibility to dictate the game from the middle but the reality was far removed from that. Whether you look at his misplaced passes in the middle, the woeful crosses at critical moments, overhit corners or the positional indiscipline and lack of energy he showed in key situations, there isn’t a positive spin you can put on his performance.
One statistic which truly sums it up is this – Craig Cathcart created more key chances (1) than Rooney did (0). Rooney is supposed to be our key playmaker, he did anything but that against Watford.
Unfortunately for United fans, this is not a new situation and until the time comes where Mourinho applies the same ruthlessness to Rooney as he does other players when it comes to poor performances, United will continue to play their football in a strait jacket.
It’s painfully obvious for us fans that Rooney is holding this team back. Sure, we were equally as poor away at Feyenoord without him in the team but looking further back than these last three performances to the last three years, this is a problem which has plagued United for some time.
The stand-out piece of football against Watford had everything to do with Rooney in the wrong way. Zlatan Ibrahimovic dropped very deep to pick up the ball before bursting forward to interchange with Marcus Rashford and that led to our equaliser. The fact Zlatan had to drop that deep was because Rooney was unable to provide that spark himself. The Rooney of 2016 is not conducive to the football Mourinho wants United to play.
Of course, Rooney wasn’t the only problem against Watford. Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba were both out of position for Watford’s first two goals, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling were dominated by Watford’s front line and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s finishing was poor but the point which needs to be understood about Rooney is that the frustration among fans with his performances have existed for years, this is not a new outburst.
When it comes to an agenda about Rooney, nobody is more guilty than the wider press and former players. For example, Paul Scholes is quick to criticise any United player so long as it isn’t Rooney and it doesn’t seem to matter how badly he plays, a negative word won’t ever be uttered about him. As for Match of the Day on Sunday night, there wasn’t even a reference to how badly he played, it was completely overlooked.
Thankfully, the tide looks to be turning and finally the national press is starting to identify what is really going on with Rooney. Better late than never.
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) September 19, 2016
I want nothing more than for Rooney to turn the screw and start banging in goals left, right and centre for United. I might not like him after the contract debacles in 2010 and 2013 but I’d support him if he was scoring. He’s not, he’s stopping players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata from helping this team develop under Mourinho – he’s holding United back.
When Gary Neville sat in that toilet at The Hawthorns at half-time back in 2011, he knew his time was up as a United player and he accepted it. At what point will Rooney look at himself and admit the same thing or, maybe a more pertinent question, at what point will Mourinho look at Rooney and understand he’s not the same player he desperately wanted to sign as Chelsea manager? That Rooney no longer exists.