Manchester United's Selection Hurting Red Devils More Than Rooney Absence

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Manchester United's Selection Hurting Red Devils More Than Rooney Absence
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Get the most out of Scholes while you can, duh.

I know, it's so very interesting: Wayne Rooney decided not to re-sign at Manchester United. (He's since changed his mind.)

But let's be honest: It's was within his right. He signed a mutual agreement with Man United until 2012. Then, it'll run out. It happens. Did he misrepresent his desire to stay at United? Perhaps. Or perhaps it just changed. That happens too.

Frankly, as poor as he's been playing for the last seven months, and even considering his average over his United career, he may be better off elsewhere; and the club, as well.

It's not unreasonable. Rooney is a good striker. He's probably a better footballer, but his manager plays him almost solely up front, where his talents seem to naturally befit a central midfielder.

Regardless, at the moment, the saga between club and manager and player only helps to overshadow how bemusing Alex Ferguson's selection has been recently.

The Manchester club are not the same one they were two or three years ago. Form varies, players age, Ronaldo and Tevez are elsewhere, and United's most improving player, Antonio Valencia, is a long-term injury absentee. The United manager has been over-reliant on the fringe players he has left, players he overvalues against teams he underestimates.

Michael Owen, Park Ji-Sung, Kiko Macheda, Gabriel Obertan, Bebe, Darron Gibson and Nancy Carrick are each either simply not good enough to consistently feature—much less player better than their opposites—in the top flight; at worst, yet, for most, period.

Park's form this year has been nothing short of horrific. Carrick couldn't carry my own boots. Gibson, though young, does not particularly inspire, nor portend greatness. Macheda and Owen should be entering—not leaving—games late. Obertan and Bebe are for the future, yet, here we are needing them in the present; not a coincidence given the first team's depth.

Ferguson's lack of self-awareness about the tenability of his squad, and his over-reliance on unworthy or unproven players has been trending all season, but especially relevant in United's last two domestic outings.

Away to Sunderland two weeks ago, Ferguson opted for Macheda and Owen up front, though, one or the other was shoe-horned at left-wing, at times, as United floundered with its manager's nebulous tactics. Both were dreadful.

Rooney was "injured," while Dimi Berbatov—arguably United's best attacker until then—and Javier Hernandez, who'd just heroically defeated Valencia late, away in a crunch Champions League tie, sat the bench. The Scottish manager thought any ragtag team he put out would suffice for three points away. United only managed one in a dire scoreless draw.

When United returned last weekend from international break, hosting West Brom at home, Ferguson rested two players his side cannot—does not—perform without this season: Paul Scholes and Berbatov. Neither player had international duties; each was fully rested. Ferguson didn't even start Darren Fletcher, a player with an immense gas tank who's been the core of his side's midfield for two seasons now.

When Giggs went off injured against the Baggies, Ferguson introduced Darren Gibson. This is a player who is essentially a poor man's Michael Carrick, who was also on the pitch, equally strangely. Calling someone a poor man's Carrick, for those who don't realize, is a scathing insult.

Ferguson could have put Rooney on the left wing then, in an unnatural position he's nevertheless somewhat accustomed to, but he was ignored for the Irishman. Rooney would be introduced later in the match, belatedly, in futile endeavor for an equalizer than never came. "To prove a point, Ferguson dropped two," as Norman Hubbard wrote.

Without a natural left-winger (having chosen, or been forced to sell Zoran Tosic, a promising left-footed winger never given a real go at United) Ferguson should consider moving Evra up into left-wing. Fabio can deputize in the Frenchman's usual position. But one thing is certain, with so much talent on the side proving not talented enough, he has to play his best players elsewhere.

Darren Fletcher, Scholes, and Berbatov must start every game going forward if United are going to have enough attacking verve to finish games instead of drawing them. It's understandable to grant each a rest now and then, but the old bloke must realize that it's more practical to put them on the bench after you have the lead, instead of taking them off the bench when you need one.

Rooney being injured or unruly, or both, isn't a pleasant problem for the club or most fans, but, as Roy Keane agrees, Man United can survive without him. However, they won't survive if their manager continues making fundamental errors in the valuation and application of the talent in his squad.

It's a great time to write articles about Wayne Rooney. But it's a bad time for United regardless. The paucity of talent at the squad that is the claimed harbinger for Rooney's departure is very real, to a point where you'd almost not blame him.

Almost.

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