Shinji Kagawa vs. Wayne Rooney Is a Healthy Situation for Manchester United

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalApril 20, 2013

It has been clear for some time. Sir Alex Ferguson will not pander to Wayne Rooney's ego and will not play favorites when it comes to Manchester United's No. 10.

On Friday, Ferguson admitted he substituted Rooney against West Ham because Rooney looked less likely to make an impact than Shinji Kagawa.

Said Ferguson to a press conference, as per Yahoo!:

As far as taking him (Rooney) off on Wednesday, it’s simply because he wasn’t playing as well as Shinji [Kagawa] was. We had to get that goal that mattered and of course there are so many games Wayne Rooney is better than most players. But on the night Shinji was playing so well.

Ferguson has been playing this game long enough to know what would follow. He understood very well those comments would spark a thousand columns and a barrage of debate around the world concerning Rooney's future at United.

He made them anyway.

Perhaps part of the motivation was an attempt to wake Rooney from his relative slumber against West Ham. He was no more than a jobbing central midfielder at the Boleyn Ground and brought little noticeable influence to United's attacking effort. 

The fact he was playing in the position at all is a debate starter. Some feel it's the natural conclusion to Rooney's talent, but I disagree completely. It's about Ferguson trying to find a way to accommodate him in his lineup.

Rooney is at his dynamic best operating in the final third, as a conduit between midfield and attack. His talent set fits the role behind Robin van Persie, where he can roam and reap harm, leaning on his ability to pick a pass, beat a man and find a finish.

Exactly the same applies to Kagawa, the Japanese international who Ferguson sees as direct competition with Rooney for the role. With Kagawa now fully fit and hinting at the kind of creative influence we saw from him at Borussia Dortmund, Rooney is no longer guaranteed a starting spot.

You could view that as a potential crisis looming for United, or you could view it as healthy competition for one of the most important positions in their lineup.

That all depends on Rooney's reaction and whether the threat prompts him to leave. The problem with that, of course, is that there will likely be a Kagawa wherever he goes next. Any club with the funds to afford Rooney will have a player to compete for his jersey.

Should Rooney stay—as I expect him to—his battle with Kagawa can only bode well for United. Both players will feel an extra sense of motivation and Ferguson will be able to choose whichever he feels best suited and most ready for the task at hand.

Ferguson will not shirk from dropping Rooney. And if he succeeds in bringing another central midfielder to Old Trafford this summer, that space will become a less justifiable one to placate Rooney in.

The United manager knows what he's doing. And he knows Rooney with a point to prove is the best Rooney he can have at his disposal.