The talisman of the side and its top scorer, Rooney’s potential departure from Old Trafford a couple of seasons ago was looked upon with endemic ramifications. Disaster was averted, and Rooney’s disillusionment subsided. He regained the fans' trust with consecutive 30-plus-goal seasons.
This season is only in its relative infancy, yet there is a tangible alteration in Rooney’s position at Old Trafford. Having only recorded two club goals in 10 games so far this season, there is a definite subsidence in the goal-scoring profligacy of which we have come accustomed.
The crux of the issue, and United’s good start to the season despite Rooney’s goal-scoring hiatus, lies with the boots of a certain Robin van Persie.
Van Persie, a marquee capture from rival Premiership side Arsenal, has lifted the burden that Rooney has carried for much of the past two years. A true world-class player in name and ability, van Persie has already registered 10 goals for his new side this season.
The interesting repercussions of van Persie’s signing has been this contrast in Rooney.
Able to be deployed in a more natural deep-lying position to make way for the predatory Dutchman to lead the United line, Rooney’s play has adapted rather than regressed.
The stats are always going to be unflattering. Over the past two seasons, Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to deploy Rooney in a more elevated position further up the pitch due to a lack of a world-class alternative. He now has that alternative.
Van Persie’s capture has also shed a certain seed of doubt about Rooney’s status at the club, with some wondering if his position at the club is what it once was.
Indeed van Persie’s fast start, earlier in the season, even caused a number of newspapers to question Rooney’s long-term position in Manchester.
Robin van Persie is undoubtedly a fantastic footballer. Yet in the aftermath of the signing, I questioned the temerity of the decision, with a surplus of attacking talent and such a patent flaw in central midfield.
Despite van Persie’s brilliant start, I stand by my initial reservations. Van Persie is very much a luxury player. He is papering over the cracks in this United team rather than providing the antidote.
Wayne Rooney’s deployment in the wake of the van Persie signing has interested me, however. I am starting to reach a conclusion that in my naivety I had never really previously explored. Namely that Wayne Rooney may well hold the key to Manchester United’s central-midfield woes.
With a supreme work rate, brilliant long-range shooting and wonderful vision, Rooney possesses the ingredients to be a hit in a more withdrawn role. While this may prove problematic for England—where he would almost certainly be maintained in his elevated striking position—it makes perfect sense for United.
Great clubs adapt for their best players. Van Persie, despite his relative age, has all the trappings needed to write his name into Old Trafford folklore over the next four or five years. Yet he will never eclipse Wayne Rooney.
His role may have adapted, and who knows, it may well alter again, but his inclusion throughout his eight-year United career has remained a constant.
Wayne Rooney remains the talisman of Manchester United, and no amount of Dutch brilliance will alter that.