In amongst the gloom and negativity of Friday night against Cambridge United, there was a degree of positivity in the form of one player – Marcos Rojo.
The tough, uncompromising Argentinian defender has had a frustrating start to his Manchester United career with a couple of injuries affecting his run of games and the start of a potentially good partnership with Chris Smalling.
Cambridge on a Friday night in freezing conditions would have been a real culture shock for the no nonsense type of defender but he more than stood up to the challenge from the League two minnows.
Indeed at one point after a robust challenge, Rojo stood and stared at his opponent, chest puffed out reminiscent of those iconic images of Jaap Stam in the 1999 European Cup quarter final with the Inter Milan attackers bouncing off his chest on backing into him.
No gloves were worn by Rojo on a cold winter’s night. Instead, he got stuck in to the matter at hand. He brought the ball forward well, made some incisive passes and was particularly dominant in the air. It is also refreshing to see a left footed centre-back comfortable in possession to give some balance to a partnership.
South American aficionados will say that Rojo’s best position is at left-back. Indeed, he plays there for his national side and was the only Argentinian to feature in the World Cup team of the tournament based on performance statistics.
However, when Luke Shaw regains match fitness (or rhythm as Louis van Gaal likes to call it) then it is fair to say Rojo won’t feature much in that position for United. He has been used as a centre-back and has delivered some excellent performances, most notably in the Manchester derby where he kept his compatriot Sergio Aguero quiet until he unfortunately dislocated his shoulder.
For a young man in a new league and no grasp of the English language, Rojo has settled in well. The potential is there that as he learns the language and feels more comfortable in his surroundings, he will become more dominant and perhaps instil some leadership so sadly lacking in the defence at this time.
His willingness to join United by going on strike at Sporting Lisbon struck a chord with the United fans. They love a player that wants to wear the shirt and in particular love an Argentinian player. From Veron to Heinze, to Tevez (initially) to Di Maria and Rojo, the chants of “Argentina” are heard home and away.
Not for the United fans, the xenophobic obsession of some with all matters English, they appreciate a player regardless of nationality, with the little matter of winding England fans up adding to the mix.
His leg injury after recovering from a dislocated shoulder was a setback not just for Rojo but for Van Gaal who had seen evidence of an understanding with Smalling developing. Hopefully he is now clear of injury and can be the cornerstone of a defence that with no January transfer additions, still looks suspect against the better teams.
A criticism levelled at him can be that, at times, he takes too many risks. He may try an audacious pass or has too many touches on the ball. However the improvement in him from a baptism of fire in the Leicester debacle is huge.
His concentration and positioning that day was poor but his physicality means that he is now beginning to really attack the ball, and more importantly relishing the physical contests. There will be very few forwards who will out-muscle him as we see on a regular basis with Evans and to a lesser extent Smalling.
The vacancy for Rojo’s centre-back partner is still wide open. Smalling and Jones have proved to be both hapless and decent in equal measure and there appears to be no way back for Evans judging by recent performances and his ever increasing injuries.
Irrespective of any potential future defensive additions, it appears certain that Rojo will survive the summer cull. The “Argentina” chants will be here for a few more years yet. Whether he posts any more controversial quotes on Instagram is another matter.