Wayne Rooney fears he may regress to a "secondary" role if Louis van Gaal is appointed as Manchester United manager, with the Dutch coach's close relationship with Robin van Persie threatening to see the Netherlands captain installed as skipper at club level.
Jeremy Cross of the Daily Star believes that, although Rooney was favourite to wear the armband after Nemanja Vidic, the hiring of Van Gaal could see the Englishman brushed aside.
Cross details the proximity of the Dutch pair's acquaintance, signalling Rooney may need to impress if he is to be installed as leader:
The decision would prove unpopular with fans but Van Gaal has proved in the past he is not scared to make tough calls. Van Gaal made Van Persie Holland captain ahead of experienced Wesley Sneijder when he became national boss in 2012.
The veteran boss is a close friend of Van Persie's and has even taken him on scouting missions in recent seasons.
Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail intensifies speculation by suggesting Rooney could also see his position in the team altered under Van Gaal. The powerful forward enjoyed a greater attacking role when David Moyes was in charge, often playing as the club's out-and-out striker, a role he was frustratingly pushed away from during Sir Alex Ferguson's latter days in charge.
Although Van Persie's season of injury woes ensures Rooney was always going to receive additional time up front, Wheeler suggests the player could revert back to feeling "frozen out," as he was during the 2012-13 campaign in which the Dutchman fired United to the title.
Rooney has netted 19 goals across 38 appearances in the Premier League and Europe this season, per WhoScored.com. He has also racked up 15 assists and consistently been United's most hard-working player in a season of disappointment. Although he undoubtedly possesses the ability to lead when focused, many will question whether he has the right temperament to skipper a side in transition.
Roy Keane—arguably United's fiercest, most brutal captain ever—shared similar tendencies, but the Irish midfielder's aggression completely defined his style of play. Rooney has a habit of flitting in and out of frustration, whereas Keane's fire naturally drove his every action and younger stars toward victory. He possessed a character to be feared, which Rooney does not.
Natural leaders are certainly lacking at United. While Rooney may hope to see Ryan Giggs installed as permanent manager, especially considering he scored a brace after the Welshman deployed him in the leading striker's role against Norwich, United could go down the unprecedented route and sign an experienced player to take over the captaincy.
Both Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are expected to follow Vidic out of the door, per ESPN. Poor seasons for both would likely have pushed them away from the permanent captaincy, but 12 months ago, either could have been touted as short-term options.
Van Gaal remains the "clear frontrunner" for United's vacancy, per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian. The veteran boss bows to nobody and will have a clear vision of what he intends to achieve if selected for the Old Trafford job.
This will include a potential captain. While Rooney is going nowhere—having just signed a £300,000-per-week contract—he may find himself overlooked in the search for a reliable figurehead at this crucial time for the club.