You could make a strong argument that Wayne Rooney is Manchester United's most important player this year as the club tries to get back to Champions League football after the disaster that was the 2013-14 season.
Now, he is also the leader of the club, as he has been named team captain, with Darren Fletcher being announced as vice-captain, per United's official Twitter account:
Rooney and Fletcher both commented on the honor as well:
Rooney and Fletcher serving as captain and vice-captain, respectively, will maintain some stability at a club undergoing a transition under new manager Louis van Gaal. But surely, the hope will also be that Rooney is motivated to not only be the team's leader but also its best player.
The last two years have certainly had their rough patches for Rooney. Despite scoring 12 goals and adding 10 assists in 27 league appearances for United two years ago, Rooney was often utilized in a deeper role by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and there were real concerns that he may force a move away from the club.
That didn't happen and Rooney was one of United's best players under new manager David Moyes last year, scoring 17 goals and adding 10 assists in 29 league games. Like the rest of the club, however, he suffered under the new manager's tutelage as United went from being league champions to finishing seventh on the table.
Under Van Gaal, Rooney will again see his role shift, but it may be for the better. The Dutch manager seems keen on installing a 3-4-1-2 system that will allow Rooney to play off forward Robin van Persie in a similar role to the one Arjen Robben occupied for the Netherlands at the World Cup, with Juan Mata settling in behind the pair and playing his familiar playmaking role as the No. 10.
The shift could see Rooney eclipse the 20-goal mark in league play for the first time since the 2011-12 season. He's certainly played his part in his fair share of goals in the past five years, per WhoScored.com:
But Rooney's role is about more than scoring goals. He must also be United's leader, a composed force on the pitch and off.
The pair of Rooney and Fletcher leading the team lends some familiarity to a summer that has seen so much change.
How Rooney responds to his new role could very well dictate how United fare this season.
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