Manchester United Midfield Is Not the Place for Wayne Rooney to Play

Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

England national soccer team player Wayne Rooney attends a press conference after a squad training session for the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Urca military base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014.  Costa Rica's surprise 1-0 win over Italy on Friday meant that England made its most humiliating exit from a World Cup since 1958, following consecutive defeats by the Italians and then Uruguay in Group D.  England play Costa Rica in their final Group D match on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

It feels like we have been here before with Wayne Rooney

We have seen the boy wonder return from international tournaments in the past dripping in disappointment and criticism. 

But this time, Wayne is returning to a Manchester United with a new coach and a new plan.

Dave Kidd of the Mirror writes that Louis van Gaal will experiment with Rooney in a central-midfield role for United in the club's upcoming pre-season programme, which is due to begin next month. 

Kidd says:

Louis van Gaal intends to employ Wayne Rooney in a deep-lying midfield role next season. The incoming Manchester United boss is desperate to accommodate Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Rooney into his starting line-up.

And after consulting the Reds' staff on the issue, the Holland manager is ready to play striker Rooney in central midfield during the club’s ­pre-season tour of the United States and into the Premier League season.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Kidd goes on to say that LvG is not keen on playing Rooney in the wide positions, such as the one he was deployed in during England's first World Cup match against Italy, and that Juan Mata is likely to get the nod to play in his favoured No. 10 role, with Robin van Persie as striker. 

Rooney is the club's biggest earner, and Van Gaal will have to find a way to use him or risk losing him. 

The question is not whether Wayne Rooney can play in midfield, but rather is it the best thing for Manchester United?

When Sir Alex Ferguson initially experimented with Rooney in a central-midfield role when RvP joined the club in 2012 the initial signs looked good.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson look on during a training session at Carrington Training Ground on March 4, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The great manager was finding a way to put his stars together in a productive and economical manner.

And with Van Persie finding the net for fun, it seemed that Wazza's time to emulate Paul Scholes had arrived.

But Rooney soon seemed unhappy and disinterested.

The campaign ended with United crowned champions of England, but Wayne sat skulking on the trophy tour bus, playing with his phone in a mood as his team-mates celebrated the club's 20th title success.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Rio Ferdinand holds the Barclays Premier League trophy onboard the open topped bus outside Old Trafford as Wayne Rooney (C,L) looks down during the Manchester United Premier League winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Mancheste
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The move from the forward line had put the player's nose so out of joint that he could neither find it in himself to be mentally ready for Sir Alex's final match at Old Trafford nor hide his discontent. 

That episode was nearly the end of Rooney at United before David Moyes parachuted in and put the jigsaw of the player's ego back together with a rather nice contract and a hug. 

Rooney can become a central midfielder, but it is unlikely that he will want to; history suggests such a move will all end in tears. 

The notion that he will play any position for the team is mainly based on football bravado rather than hard facts. And Wayne knows that he is an exceptionally good striker―but, in the long term, might not be a very good midfielder.

Rooney is not Scholes or Roy Keane, and United need to find the right player to play the position. 

Sang Tan/Associated Press

When names such as Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba are dreamt of by the Old Trafford faithful as the club's next midfield maestros, the thought of Rooney having to adapt his game as he closes in on 29 years old as the solution is a worrying one.

Rooney no longer has the mobility that he once possessed―a mobility that lends itself to being a top-class central midfielder.

Take this element out of the equation, add to it that Wayne's first touch is still as suspect as it ever was, and suddenly you are left with a broken talent. He will be miserable in his football skin and it will affect the team. 

Wazza knows all of this, but it is hardly the sort of thing you crow about in public. 

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Louis van Gaal, Netherlands national football team manager speaks to his player during the Netherlands training session at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil held at the Estadio Jose Bastos Padilha Gavea on June 19, 2014 in
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In the 4-3-3 that LvG will surely use, the central midfielder needs to be dynamic, technically blessed and have an engine that gets them from box-to-box with ease. This modus operandi not only discounts Rooney from the role but also Michael Carrick, who has spent his best years screening the back four and getting nose bleeds from venturing too far forward. 

Van Gaal must recruit from outside of the club for this position, otherwise his time at United could be short-lived. Place Rooney in the midfield and watch United burn―the Dutch coach could be out of the door faster than Moyes. 

It feels right that the new coach will play Mata off RvP at the beginning of his tenure at United, but such a move does leave Rooney's place in the team in doubt.

Wazza has the talent to force his way into Van Gaal's plans, but as it stands, he is both the second-best No. 9 and second-best No. 10 at the club.

Wayne Rooney is not used to being second best.

Not long ago, Rooney was the perfect footballer for Manchester United: young, powerful, a little bit crazy and full of vitality.

But that player no longer exists. 

Some of those skills are still in the player's armoury today, but as a forward with 13 years of Premier League wear and tear on his body, his natural powers have started to decrease. 

If Wayne is happy to play second fiddle in the centre of the park under a new regime then it will be interesting to observe how he takes to playing in midfield every week. But if this experiment turns out to be a huge failure, it is the Manchester United fans who will suffer the most.