Making a Case for Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie as Manchester United Captain

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured Columnist IVOctober 15, 2016

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Wayne Rooney (R) and Robin van Persie of Manchester United talk during a training session ahead of their Champions League Group A match against Shakhtar Donetsk at their Carrington Training Complex on October 01, 2013 in Manchester, England (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

LANDOVER, MD - JULY 29: Darren Fletcher #24 of Manchester United celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in penalty shootouts against Inter Milan during their match in the International Champions Cup 2014 at FedExField on July 29, 20
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Louis van Gaal's reign as Manchester United's manager has gotten off to an absorbing beginning. 

We have observed a fundamental change in formation for the club that bleeds 4-4-2, we have witnessed attackers playing as defenders and we have seen individuals who have spent an age playing out of position—playing their favourite roles.

And with this, United have a 100 percent win record on their tour of the USA against credible club opposition, rather than average all-star teams from the Far East. 

LvG has clearly displayed his intentions of sticking with the tactical formation that served his Netherlands team so well at the recent World Cup.

The formation of 5-3-2 is not one you regularly see in the Premier League every week, but Van Gaal is a visionary and he will implement his philosophy, whether that be against trend or not.

DENVER, CO - JULY 26: Wayne Rooney #10 of Manchester United follows through on a penalty goal during the first half of an International Champions Cup match against AS Roma at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on July 26, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

But one vital element the Dutch coach is yet to reveal is who will be the club captain for his tenure.

The main two candidates are obvious and simple: Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

Rooney has never been a full-time skipper before, but he has worn the armband on multiple occasions. He is also the one player who has come out publicly and said that he wants the captaincy on a permanent basis.

Recently, Rooney commented, per Sky Sports:

Of course I would like the captaincy but it’s the manager's decision who he chooses. I think he wants to work with the players and then choose a captain from there. I don’t think he was ever going to just walk in and choose a player from the off. I’m sure he will look at the players now and make his decision in a couple of weeks.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

After a decade at the club, Rooney would be an unsurprising choice as captain, but the relationship between LvG and RvP creates a huge obstacle for the England international.

Van Persie was Van Gaal's skipper in Brazil and they share a special bond as player and coach.

And before the World Cup kicked off, the United striker was bombastic in his words about his manager.

He told The Blizzard magazine, per Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star:

Personally, I’m in my best period. Van Gaal gave me all the confidence I can ask for. He made me the main striker, my favourite position. At last. He made me captain. I owe him something. So I will be as sharp as a knife in Brazil.

I will walk on fire for him if I have to. Like the rest of the team.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

A betting man would not look past Van Persie in this unique contest with Rooney, but the USA tour might have changed the manager's mind slightly.

Rooney has been able to show his influence in the matches in America with no Van Persie to hinder his path into Van Gaal's thoughts. He has not only played well but has displayed a maturity on the pitch that is not always associated with him. 

He has appeared calm and concentrated on the new tactics at large, and he has delivered—with goals and assists. 

RvP will soon be back in the fold and what appears to be the skeleton of a very good United side, with Ander Herrera giving the team an alternative brain in midfield, will be further strengthened. 

But will Van Gaal feel that he should have an English captain rather than making this an all-Dutch love affair?

DENVER, CO - JULY 26: Wayne Rooney #10 of Manchester United celebrates his second goal with Juan Mata #8 during the first half of an International Champions Cup match against AS Roma at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on July 26, 2014 in Denver, Color
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Rooney is almost certain to be named as England's next captain and LvG might see this as an opportunity to mould the player into what he wants him to be.

Also, Van Gaal's formation is made for Rooney to succeed. The 5-3-2 allows him to play as a false nine rather than a No. 10. 

It has always been mooted that Wayne is a natural in the withdrawn central-attacking role, but it has been proved on countless occasions that his first touch is not good enough. Yes, his second and third touches are sometimes extraordinary, but the No. 10 must have a perfect touch, at pace.

Also, a 4-3-3 would force Rooney into the wider attacking roles—and it is clear that he is not happy playing there permanently.

A 5-3-2 tactic lets Rooney play up top and allows LvG to play Van Persie and Juan Mata in their most dangerous positions.

Jon Super/Associated Press

And it could be a case that the Dutch coach sees Rooney fit to lead the revolution—the player who has the traditional English courage and heart—despite some of his childish misgivings and bad decisions of the past.

Van Persie is still the more likely to be named captain at present. But he would be the safe choice for a manager who is known for not making safe choices. 

RvP may well be happy to "walk on fire" for his boss, but would this change if he was not captain? It is more than likely that Van Persie would not be affected by the resulting decision and his love for Van Gaal would not diminish.

The captaincy means much more to Rooney as he looks to cement his name into Manchester United history. He needs it more at present and he knows that these are the final few chapters of his career at the highest level.

Being a successful Manchester United captain is something that would motivate Rooney to perform, and Van Gaal may wish to tap into this mineral resource—if there are diamonds in the mine, you may as well plunder it and fill your boots. 

Many United fans will be unhappy to see a Merseysider skipper a Mancunian football team—especially one who has given the supporters the runaround with flirtations with rivals. 

But with LvG's stock high at present, if he chooses Rooney as the man to lead his football team, the faithful will unite behind the decision.

Fandom is fickle at the best of times, but Rooney has shown that, in the striker's role, he is still the alpha-male of the football club.

RvP will be happy to play as the No. 9 in an attacking pair, and with Mata and Herrera providing the ammo, he will be content to concentrate on scoring goals.

Van Gaal has already shown that he likes to spring a surprise and there will be absolutely no shock if he makes Rooney his new best friend—getting the Scouser to run through brick walls for him as the Red Devils battle for supremacy in England—and earn the right to sit on the throne of the Premier League, once more. 

Rooney may yet turn out to be Van Gaal's best piece of man management this season.


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