Wayne Rooney's Place in Manchester United Team Under Threat from Star Arrivals

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Wayne Rooney's Place in Manchester United Team Under Threat from Star Arrivals
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Wayne Rooney has seen most things during his career.

He's been a wonderkid and the world's most expensive teenager. He's been the star for both Manchester United and England, but also, at times, played a supporting role to Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie.

He's been in trouble, on and off the field. He's had his name sung by adoring fans one minute, then castigated the next.

Wealth, fame, talent, controversy; he is the modern footballer. He's the product of the intense spotlight on United, England and the Premier League.

But 10 years after moving to Old Trafford from Everton, Rooney is facing a new challenge. For the first time in a long time, there is genuine debate over whether he deserves his place in the team.

Jon Super/Associated Press

At 28 years old, he is reaching his peak years. Injury and form permitting, he should end his career as United's and England's greatest goalscorer.

But Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward have brought two exceptional attacking players to Old Trafford this summer. 

Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao are among the best in the world. Rooney is paid like one. But for many United fans, that's where the comparison ends.

He's had the benefit of a full pre-season, and his performances on the tour of the United States were good. But his form since the beginning of the season has been, at best, uninspiring.

Christopher Lee/Getty Images

He's struggled to get on the ball in Van Gaal's 3-5-2. But he must shoulder some of the blame as well. He's not played well and certainly hasn't reached the high standards he sets for himself.

Still, he remains England's key man. Captain for the first time against Norway at Wembley on Wednesday, he scored a penalty to save Roy Hodgson the trouble of talking himself out of another disappointing result.

There is little question he will start again against Switzerland on Monday. His place in the national team isn't under any pressure. But that's as much to do with a lack of other options as anything Rooney has done.

Hodgson can't go out and buy better players. But Van Gaal can.

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And when Rooney returns to Carrington next week, he will find Falcao, Di Maria, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie all fighting it out for a place in the team.

Together, they are five of the best attacking players in the world, worth nearly £200 million. But it's difficult to see how Van Gaal can fit them all into the same team.

One is going to have to sit on the bench. And for the first time since he joined United in 2004, there's a argument that it should be Rooney.

Are Van Persie and Falcao better centre forwards? Is Mata, Di Maria or even Adnan Januzaj better as a No. 10? There are plenty of United fans who will tell you the answer to both those questions is yes.

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At the moment, the most compelling argument for why Rooney should be in the team to play QPR at Old Trafford on September 14 is that he's club captain.

But that doesn't make him worth a place in a team that can also include Falcao, Di Maria, Van Persie and Mata. 

Mata is also vulnerable. Like Rooney, he's struggled to impose himself in games against Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley. After the arrivals of Di Maria and Falcao, he has reason to be nervous.

He might have cost £37.1 million only eight months ago, but he's not Van Gaal's man. Just another player inherited from David Moyes.

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Ever since Rooney arrived at United as an 18-year-old, there has always been a place for him. On occasion, he's played in an unfamiliar position to accommodate others. But he's almost always been in the team.

He was dropped for the Champions League second-round second leg against Real Madrid in 2013. But that was a tactical decision made for a specific game. 

The threat now is more serious. And it's questionable whether he is part of United's best XI.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The arrivals at Old Trafford this summer have presented Rooney with a new problem. And it will be up to him to prove he's worth his position in one of the most fearsome forward lines in the world.

It's not guaranteed. And if he continues to play poorly, he'll need more than a captain's armband to save his place.

At his best, Rooney can score goals as consistently as Van Persie and Falcao and create them like Mata and Di Maria.

But Van Gaal is yet to see it this season. And he's got some big decisions to make very soon.

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