Wednesday night was a special one at Old Trafford as Manchester United took on Everton in Wayne Rooney’s testimonial. It was a night of celebration, remembering the past, and looking to the future.
“Rooney! Rooney!” was sung out from the stands as the man of the night entered the field, just like it has for much of the past 12 years.
Rooney is a unique figure at Old Trafford. He’s straddled eras, arriving as a teenager under Sir Alex Ferguson, being the player David Moyes begged to stay, and nearly saw his career ruined by Louis van Gaal. He might be the only player to ever remain at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson decides he’s done with him. When you think of all the changes that the club has gone through over the past few years, the one consistency has been Rooney.
While this was a night of celebration and remembering the five Premier League titles, the Champions League, and all the other trophies Rooney won in his time at Old Trafford, it was also a preseason game for Manchester United. A game for the players to prepare for the upcoming season and regain their sharpness.
It was also the first chance for the home fans to see Rooney play with his new strike partner, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The two played together for 52 minutes, with Rooney playing creator for the Swede’s best two opportunities of the night. The rest of those 52 minutes however were ugly with both players struggling to find space.
If both players were on top of each other in the box looking for goals that would be a welcome problem for manager Jose Mourinho. Instead it was the opposite, with both players constantly dropping deep to get the ball. That creates a problem of a lack of space, and no one up the field to give the ball to.
By the end of the match, the other question that has followed Rooney around for his 12 years in Manchester was being asked.
Will Wayne Rooney be able to play with his new striker partner or are they too similar?
This question seems to be asked every time United sign another striker and if history is a guide the answer is 100 percent yes. It started in 2007 when the Red Devils signed Carlos Tevez from West Ham. At the time, Tevez and Rooney were nearly carbon copies of each other, work horses who tirelessly chased down defenders, never stopped running, and liked to play behind the central striker.
The start of the season showed just how similar the two were, and like Rooney and Ibrahimovic against Everton, Rooney and Tevez were constantly all over each other. By October, however, Rooney and Tevez silenced their doubters and began to show how dangerous they could be when they were on the same page.They went on to form a lethal pair that won the Premier League and Champions League that season.
Five years later the questions returned when Sir Alex Ferguson poached Robin van Persie away from Arsenal. Like Rooney, van Persie also liked to drop deeper into the field to get the ball, leading to Rooney and van Persie stepping on each others toes early in the season. These issues were quickly worked out and van Persie went on to have a 30-goal season. Playing second fiddle, Rooney added 16 of his own.
The key to making all the different strike partnerships work has been Rooney’s selfless ability to adapt to different styles and accept new roles. With Tevez that meant sometimes being moved out wide to allow Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo to play more centrally. With van Persie that meant dropping Rooney deeper in the field to give van Persie the more clear cut goal scoring chances.
Rooney has always done what’s best for the team without so much a complaint, which is exactly why he’ll do whatever it takes to make the partnership with Ibrahimovic work. If Rooney needs to drop deeper into the midfield or change his style of play to accommodate Zlatan, he will. ‘
One of the most interesting qualities about Rooney is that despite scoring 245 goals for Manchester United, he’s always been a player that’s just as happy to set up the goals as he is to score one. If his role with Ibrahimovic is to play provider, he’ll do it with a smile on his face.
It’s not easy to stay at one club, let alone a club as big as Manchester United, for 12 straight years. Rooney accomplished that by always doing whatever role the team needed him to do. For that alone, he deserved a night of celebration Wednesday night.
And while it was only one night, one shouldn’t worry that his partnership with Ibrahimovic got off to a rocky start. Over 12 years Rooney has done this plenty of times before, and it’s always worked out.