Wayne Rooney has so far not responded well to new manager Louis van Gaal's plan to revive his career by making him Manchester United's captain. Rooney did score United's only goal in their season-opening 2-1 home defeat against Swansea City, but that was all he did. He was just as poor in the recent 1-1 draw at Sunderland.
Two drab performances in a row is hardly the best way to impress your new manager. It's also not the ideal way for Rooney to prove he is ready to bounce back to his best.
The England striker endured a tough final few seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson's management. The two personalities clearly clashed.
Ferguson believed that Rooney didn't apply himself properly in training. It didn't help that the Scot kept moving Rooney out of his preferred centre-forward role.
In recent seasons, Rooney has played wide left and even central midfield. If Ferguson had postponed retirement for a few years, Rooney would probably be playing sweeper by now.
But all of this was supposed to change under Van Gaal. He wasted little time making the 28-year-old his captain. The Dutch coach also reserved special praise for Rooney during United's pre-season preparations, per Mail on Sunday writer Joe Bernstein.
Yet this positive reinforcement has done nothing for Rooney's form. His performance against Sunderland was largely of the anonymous variety. That's something Squawka Football attempted to detail via use of a first-half heat map:
Of course, blotches on the screen don't prove Rooney's talent has diminished. In fact, he's always been a striker who likes to roam, and often does his best work from outside the box.
However, what's more concerning is that on the rare occasions when Rooney did get on the ball at the Stadium of Light, he did very little with it:
The lack of end product is just not good enough from a player rightly defined by what he does in the attacking third. Worse still, Rooney's repeated off days aren't undermining only himself.
His lacklustre form is holding back the entire team. United are not a force to be reckoned with in attack any longer. That was painfully obvious at Sunderland:
Such a lack of creativity was also evident against Swansea, another game in which Rooney was helping to lead the line. After the draw at Sunderland, Van Gaal was quick to chide his team's inability to be creative where it counts.
He pinpointed that issue as the main reason for United's tame performance, per the club's official Twitter feed:
Rooney's efforts were aptly summed up by MailOnline writer Chris Hope: "A relatively quiet afternoon and his frustration told at times." If anything, this might actually be a kind assessment.
Make no mistake, Rooney's performances are putting his place in jeopardy, armband or no armband. Anyone who thinks Van Gaal hasn't got the front to drop his skipper and give the privilege to someone else either doesn't know his history or doesn't have much respect for his reputation.
Van Gaal has never been afraid to marginalise star players, particularly those who are not performing. Expect him to have very little tolerance if Rooney continues to struggle.
Di Maria's arrival will work one of two ways for Rooney. The inclusion of a player who supplied 22 assists for Los Blancos last season, per WhoScored.com, could instantly revitalise Rooney.
The striker should receive better supply than he has been getting from United's midfield so far this season.
But if Rooney is still struggling even after Di Maria's arrival, there won't be much more Van Gaal can do to bring the best out of him. That might encourage the Dutchman to drop Rooney and switch his 3-5-2 formation to a 4-3-3, another tactical structure Van Gaal has leaned on during his illustrious career.
That would put Di Maria on one wing with a player such as Adnan Januzaj or Juan Mata on the other. Then Robin van Persie would be left in his favourite role as primary goal-getter through the middle.
Rooney needs to shape up, and fast. He's still a supremely gifted player, one key to United's chances of success.
However, it's been a while since he last proved those words correct on the pitch. Now he's playing for a manager who won't just move him out of position if he doesn't perform, he'll ditch him altogether.
The arrival of a mega-star like Di Maria is surely Rooney's last chance to prove he can still be United's talisman this season.
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