The England man has performed well below the level expected of him so far this season and his manager will never have a better chance to phase the skipper out of his plans.
He is England’s captain and record goalscorer, and stands just three goals shy of boasting the same double accomplishment with the country’s most successful and recognisable club. But right now Wayne Rooney is hurting Manchester United more than he is helping them, and it is time Jose Mourinho addressed the Red Devils’ problems by dropping his skipper.
The Portuguese marked his arrival at Old Trafford this summer by proclaiming that Rooney has no place at the heart of midfield, but in attempting to shoe-horn the 30-year-old into his attack Mourinho has helped to cause issues for himself which have seen United fall six points behind early pace-setters Manchester City in the Premier League with back-to-back defeats.
For many Rooney has been living on borrowed time for a period measured in years rather than months or weeks, but it was always unlikely that Mourinho would come in and immediately cast the captain aside. It is one type of statement to exclude Bastian Schweinsteiger from his plans without a ball being kicked but it would have been quite another to sideline Rooney until he had first given the player enough rope to hang himself.
And the United number 10 has done exactly that in recent weeks, with his performances in the league defeats to Manchester City and Watford of particular concern. Demonstrating a lack of sharpness and verve in the role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he has forced the Swede to do more to create opportunities himself. Even when Mourinho slotted Rooney into a three-man midfield at Vicarage Road on Sunday, the skipper still looked entirely out of place.
The lack of pace in the final third this term has been reflective of Rooney’s own issues, and the paucity of chances being created says much about the allowances Mourinho has made for the England man. In a position in which United have multiple options thanks to the presence of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they have carried Rooney and are so far paying the price.
Against City last week United were plainly second best during the first half, as conceded by Mourinho afterwards, but after the interval they had enough of the game to probe more significantly than they did. Perhaps if they had selected a No.10 who could provide a new angle to the attack they may have made the most of a City back-line which on occasion looked set to implode.
But with Rooney looking slow both on and off the ball, taking many a heavy first touch which squandered several chances to look up and supply a killer pass, United faltered. The same was true of the trip to Watford, and by the end he was busy taking his frustrations out on an assistant referee as his side were well beaten.
And for as long as Mourinho persists with Rooney rather than allowing the likes of Mata or Mkhitaryan to thrive in the greater freedom the No.10 role supplies, it can only damage United further. He may well leave the former Everton ace out once more against Northampton in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, but Saturday’s line-up against Leicester City will be telling in the least.
Rooney has been one of United’s modern greats, but there is no use pretending he has been anything other than a hindrance in the forward line this term and his manager must act sooner rather than later.
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