“I respect the decision of the manager because it is for the betterment of the squad.” Some say see this remark as one of being humble, or either one that has deep anger and hurt inside. Wayne Rooney made this comment before England’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia, a match which ended goalless. The England star was dropped from the team this week, and even though Gareth Southgate would not have wanted to do this, it was a decision purely based on form especially after the jeers he received during England’s win over Malta last week at Wembley.
Receiving boos from Wembley is not a small issue, which asks how bad is the Rooney situation? There are two sides to the current debacle surrounding one of England’s great players, that is club and country. For Manchester United, the murmurs of Rooney playing deeper in midfield have been ongoing since the final season of Sir Alex Ferguson. There was reluctance from both Jose Mourinho’s predecessors; David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, but eventually it was tried and in some cases, there was relative success.
He always remained the leader for the Red Devils, but this season, things have become different for Rooney. Mourinho has played him in midfield, but it has come at a cost for certain natural midfielders; one in particular the 90-million pound man Paul Pogba. With Rooney playing in midfield, this has limited Pogba’s role in being his box-to-box self, asking the Frenchman to do defensive work – something he is not a fan of.
Now put Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick or even Marouane Fellaini in that role for that matter, and Pogba is at his best. Rooney may be the captain of the club, but judged by the value and form of players, he certainly is not. Pogba’s price tag demands he plays every game in a position which is suited best for him, while with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his stardom and success at club level in the past makes him the man to start up front in most games, if not all.
Let us not forget Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingaard, who is arguably the future of English football, who are currently, on form, ahead of Rooney. This is not the first time Mourinho has dropped a club captain. Do not forget the Iker Casillas debacle at Real Madrid, when the Portuguese dropped the iconic skipper for most of the 2012/13 season and the Spanish media backlash was lethal.
For England, Southgate now has two dilemmas on his plate. After the embarrassing scandal which rocked the Football Association and Sam Allardyce, Southgate’s first aim is to make sure the FA do not humiliate themselves once again. The other is finding a solution for Rooney.
The boos he received during England’s win over Malta were not exaggerated, as with his age of 30, there is a sense that he is slowing the game down in midfield. With the likes of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier being the future of the Three Lions, Rooney’s role may become even less worthy. England great Peter Shilton alluded to the fact that for Rooney to surpass his all-time record (which he is seven ganes short off), he would need to play as a striker.
That idea may be switched off, as with the likes of Rashford, Harry Kane and even Jamie Vardy around, Rooney’s time as a starter for England is coming to a conclusion. Should Southgate be given a role as permanent boss, he faces a bold move. Beloved captains for their countries have been dropped for the betterment of the teams.
Michael Ballack was a case in point for Germany in 2010, and the same went for Raul in 2008; decisions which which were justified by Joachim Loew and the late Luis Aragones respectively. They were not bad players, but their age and style of play did not suit Germany and Spain respectively because both sides wanted to play expansive games. It remains to be seen whether a decision like this, should Southgate make it, will help England?
Rooney is a legend for both Manchester United and England. He has scored 246 club goals and has won every major honour at club level, and he is three goals short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record. As for England, he is their official top goal scorer with 53 goals yet a major honour deserts him, which has been a constant trend since 1966. David Beckham is the last England captain to step down in his early 30s. Whether Rooney does this remains to be seen, as there is this belief that he has one more major competition in him.
But constant droppings by both club and country may force his hand to either leave United, and possibly stepping down altogether from the national team.