There may not be a more polarizing player in English soccer than Wayne Rooney. The Liverpool-born striker is now the captain of Manchester United and the English National team. He has scored 237 goals for his club, just 12 behind Sir Bobby Charlton for the most in club history and his 51 international goals is the most ever for an English player.
Yet throughout his career, fans of both the club and country have varied between loving him and hating him. Rooney has had various run-ins with Manchester United fans, mostly after his handing-in of a transfer request in 2010, and he’s had English fans calling for him to be dropped from the squad.
It’s interesting that a player like Rooney has had the fans turn on him so often, considering not only has Rooney been very potent throughout his career but he’s also been the ultimate team player. Rooney loves playing in the no. 10 role right behind the lead striker, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been willing to move around. Throughout his career Rooney has been deployed as the lead striker to make up for the team not having another option, as a left winger to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo, or even as a central midfielder to accommodate Robin van Persie.
Despite all this, Rooney still found the time to score 172 Premier League goals, tied for second of all time. That is until Louis van Gaal came along.
Louis van Gaal took over as Manchester United following the 2014 World Cup, and spent most of his first season trying to figure out where he should best deploy Rooney on the field. Rooney ended the season with 14 goals, his fewest ever in a United shirt. This season Rooney has scored just two Premier League goals in 12 games.
Prior to this season, the popular discussion was whether Wayne Rooney was getting too old and if the game was passing him by. While that certainly looks the case when Rooney is playing for Manchester United, when he puts on his England shirt he shows that not only can he still play, but he can also still score goals. One thing has become clear, Louis van Gaal’s ultra-conservative style is not fitting Rooney.
This opinion is becoming more and more popular these days as several former players are voicing their opinion on England’s captain. Former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore recently said that Rooney should leave Old Trafford for the sake of his career and for the English national team. Former Southampton striker and current Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier believes Rooney’s most recent goal slump isn’t due to poor form, but because van Gaal’s tactics don’t allow Rooney to excel.
There is certainly an argument to be made that the system is hampering Rooney. In van Gaal’s system, United don’t send as many men forward in attack as they did under Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Sir Alex, Rooney and his teammates had the freedom to run at defenders and make long passes to pick out runs from the forwards, both of which are things that don’t happen anymore under van Gaal.
From a systematic standpoint it makes sense for Rooney to find a new club. When he plays for Roy Hodgson’s England squad Rooney often looks like the Rooney of old. He plays freely, gets his teammates involved, and gets himself in position to score goals. Therefore logic certainly dictates that he should play for a manager who lets him play.
Of course it’s not that simple. van Gaal is already starting to lose the the United fan base due to the team’s perceived ‘boring’ style of play. There have been rumblings that van Gaal is already starting to lose the United dressing room due to the players’ dislike of his training methods, something that Rooney has already spoken publicly about.
For van Gaal, it’s a tricky subject. Besides Michael Carrick, Rooney is the most senior member of United’s squad that still has very strong ties to the Sir Alex Ferguson era. If van Gaal loses Rooney, he very well may lose the rest of the dressing room, and he’ll certainly lose whatever fans he still has in his corner. That’s one of the biggest reasons Rooney hasn’t been dropped from the squad, despite his lack of production.
The Wayne Rooney situation is a very tricky one. With the exception of the 2010 transfer request saga, Rooney has always been a team-first player who will never publicly speak ill about his club. The fact that he needs just 12 goals to become United’s all-time leading scorer is certainly something that is very important to him and a goal that he wants to achieve. Coming into the season he needed just 14 goals to get there and it was almost a certainty that he would.
Now it’s much less clear.
The question is how long will Rooney’s England career run? If Rooney intends to stay with the national team beyond Euro 2016 it may not only be better but perhaps even necessary for him to leave United. If this summer’s Euro 2016 is going to be Rooney’s international swan song, then perhaps it’s best for everyone for Rooney to stay at Old Trafford where he can fight to become United’s all time leading scorer. Even if takes longer than anyone would have liked.