Wayne Rooney has played in a number of different positions in his time at Manchester United. In recent matches, Louis van Gaal has opted to deploy the England captain as a central midfielder. There is a method to the madness and this latest reincarnation could give Rooney’s career a much-needed lease of life.
The impetus for the change has been Rooney’s rather modest goalscoring exploits this season. His tally of 11 goals from 36 appearances has hardly set the world alight and it is part of a downward curve in recent seasons.
Indeed, there has always been the lingering feeling about Rooney that he is not, at heart, a natural centre-forward or No.10. Being a prolific forward requires a certain discipline, patience, and a selfishness. It is true that Rooney has been able to fulfil the role well over the years but it has meant sacrificing his creative brilliance and ability to constantly stamp his influence on the game. Furthermore, he has often relied on his decent pace, something which is starting to desert him at the age of 30.
Cast your mind back to Euro 2004 when Rooney burst onto the international stage. He was constantly in the heart of the action, dropping deep in order to chase the ball, winning the ball back and taking players on. The raw talent and enthusiasm displayed at that tournament have never quite been replicated in the same way but it can be. That is exactly the kind of play that lends itself well to an intrepid central midfielder.
Rooney’s performances in the midfield this season have been a testament to this. In particular, he had one of his games of the season in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, where he was a constant influence on play and even made a crucial last minute tackle to deny Everton an equaliser.
Rooney’s passing abilities are also put to better use in midfield. In the recent game against Crystal Palace, he mustered a passing accuracy of 91%, compared to his 83% average. So it’s clear that Rooney can more than do a job in a central midfield role.
As well as this, it just makes sense given the current dynamics of the squad. Anthony Martial has been excellent all season and Rashford has certainly earned his place up front since making his debut in February. They seem the best goalscoring options. Therefore, Rooney has to be accommodated in midfield, where he can still contribute heavily to the side.
Indeed, Rooney faces a similar situation with England for the Euros. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have been in outstanding form this season and it would perhaps make sense to start both up front instead of Rooney. However, he certainly does not have to be dropped. With England having a real dearth of central midfielders right now, there is a place where Rooney could readily slot in and solve a lot of problems.
Whatever Roy Hodgson and van Gaal decide in the future, Rooney himself is increasingly turning his attention to the middle of the park. Speaking in April, he expressed his desire to emulate Paul Scholes’ role in the legendary United teams of the 90s and 2000s.
He said: “I have played and watched Paul Scholes play that role for years and I always knew that one day that is where I would play, so I have tried to learn and watch what he did.”
So it seems Rooney’s future may well lie in central midfield. Hopefully, it can add impetus to his career and allow him to flourish towards the twilight years of his career.