This summer, United fans were elated to discover that Netherlands and former Arsenal skipper, Robin van Persie, would be joining the ranks at Old Trafford in a deal estimated to be worth around £24 million.
The news sent shockwaves through the Barclays Premier League, undoubtedly going down in history as one of the biggest transfers that English football has ever seen.
However, what United fans may not have realised (or even thought about) was with the arrival of van Persie, a huge change in the hierarchy of the Red Devils dressing room was possibly about to occur.
Wayne Rooney has been the talisman of Manchester United since his arrival at the club from Everton in 2004. His work ethic, along with his unquestionable skill and ability with the ball at his feet, has more than deservedly helped the Liverpudlian earn the tag “world class.” Rooney is undoubtedly seen as one of the world’s best strikers—but here’s the problem, so is van Persie.
No big deal, right? Just play the two men together in a 4-4-2 formation.
Unfortunately, for Sir Alex, that all too simple solution will more than likely not garner the best results from the elite pairing.
Van Persie is a player who likes to position himself as the spearhead of a team’s attack in a lone striker role.
He has shown his expertise at doing this in both of the games he has started for United so far this season, scoring four times in just two matches.
Rooney is a lot more versatile, able to play in pretty much any attacking role you could possibly wish to slot him.
The solution to this tactical dilemma would be an easy one if it weren’t for two very important factors: Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa.
If you think of two roles to slot Rooney into in a midfield position, it would probably be either on the right wing (where Valencia plays) or just off of van Persie in central midfield (the area which Kagawa occupies).
It would be simple enough if these two players were easily benchable, but the problem for United is that—behind Rooney and van Persie—they are team’s next two best players.
Rooney would do a great job in both of these roles, but would it be as efficient as Valencia or Kagawa’s contributions in the same position? That is very unlikely.
These men are experts at what they do, and however good Rooney is, he will not be able to emulate the sort of performances that the men from Japan and Ecuador would in the same role.
So where does this leave Rooney?
In my mind there are two possible options to solve the Rooney-van Persie “crisis.”
Firstly, Rooney has shown over the years that his versatility on the pitch not only extends to the positions he can be play, but also the fact that he is able, with relative ease, to use both of his feet to good effect.
The left side of the United attack is currently occupied by players that have been under some scrutiny—to put it kindly—over the past year or so.
Rooney cannot and should not be placed in the left-winger role currently being taken by Patrice Evra, but would fans really object to Luis Nani or Ashley Young losing their place in the side in favour of Rooney on the left-wing?
I know I wouldn’t. Young and Nani are two gifted players but they suffer from one of the most frustrating illnesses in football: they are both severely inconsistent.
Both men have had matches that make them look like absolute world beaters, followed promptly by games where their performances don’t, in any way, warrant their United status.
If there’s one thing that any footballing fan would agree about Rooney, whether they love or hate him, it’s that he is certainly consistent.
Rooney has been able to maintain a world-class level of performance for the better part of eight years now and doesn’t look to be letting up on that any time soon.
I’m confident that Rooney would step up to the challenge immediately and go from the main goal threat to a chief provider with a lethal finisher like van Persie being his target in the centre.
The idea of Valencia, Rooney and van Persie (with Kagawa in just behind) working together up front is a mouth-watering prospect.
Is the left side of midfield the answer for Rooney? It certainly could be.
A couple of days ago, I wrote an article outlining the possible formations that Fergie has to play with this season.
I concluded that the best—albeit most unlikely—line-up, was a 5-4-1 or a 3-6-1 that saw van Persie acting as a lone striker, with Rooney and Kagawa tucked in just behind him in central-attacking midfield roles.
Behind this pairing another two defencemen—Phil Jones and Michael Carrick—could sure up a defence that consisted of three centre-backs (Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans), while two full-backs acted not only as a right- and left-back, but also as wingers for either flank (Patrice Evra/Buttner and Antonio Valencia).
It’s something that perhaps would be asking a lot for Fergie to suddenly come out with. Let’s face it, the world’s most successful manager is not exactly renown for trying adventurous tactics—and perhaps rightfully so, after all he has certainly achieved a lot by sticking to his guns.
However, if United were to employ this style of setup it would allow all of the big four to play on the team in the roles that they are best at.
There will still be people out there who maintain that playing the two men together in a 4-4-2 could be fruitful enough to see United win back their title this season.
Where should Rooney play?
Those theories at this stage can neither be proven false nor correct.
However, it is my personal belief that a player of van Persie’s ilk would struggle to work in a partnership like this—even with a player of Rooney’s immense quality.
What United need is to turn Wayne into a very attack-minded midfielder, as opposed to the very conservative-minded striker he is right now.
By that I mean that Rooney is pretty much already perfectly suited for the role, all that they need to do is mentally prepare him for the swap from striker to midfielder on the team sheet.
Could we see Valencia and Rooney on the wings, or dare I say even Rooney and Kagawa playing as a central-attacking midfield pairing, any time soon? We will have to wait and see.
One thing is for certain though, if Fergie really does want the most from his two best players on the same pitch at the same time, he needs to implement one of these strategies upon Wayne’s return to first team action.