Ask any Manchester United fan this season, and the crisis that has followed the horrible realisation, as they muse upon the taunts from Arsenal and Liverpool fans perched above them in the table, is the same: “My god, I wished I’d gloated more when we were good.”
Of course, the chance to do that again may be a long way off, so people look for other ways to be superior. So, what did other clubs do when in this situation?
Well, Arsenal fans used to talk about playing good football. That’s clearly a non-starter.
Liverpool supporters might instead have opted for the passion of their fans. Tricky, given the usual matchday atmosphere inside of Old Trafford.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 19, 2014
All we’re left with is the simple, back-to-basics approach: accept the team’s incompetence, and take advantage of being able to ignore results by being holier-than-thou at every moment possible. That means standing by David Moyes at every turn but bellowing abuse at Tom Cleverley. Dusting off the green and gold banners and reacting to Wayne Rooney. goals with disinterested applause, sneering at Liverpool fans’ adulation of Luis Suarez, whose list of crimes is twice as long. In that kind of environment, it might just balance out how useful Rooney has been to United.
It’s hard to imagine anywhere a player at a club the size of United could rise to become record goalscorer yet still attract so much disdain from so many fans. The sight of Alan Shearer broken down on a hard shoulder outside Blyth and struggling to attract the sympathy of passing motorists is difficult to imagine, or Steve Ogrizovic not being let off with being 5p short of being able to buy a Fruit Shoot in a corner shop in Coventry.
But Rooney’s bed is largely one of his own making, and he seems content to lie in it for a mere £300,000 a week.
The question is whether United, for practical as well as emotional reasons, should be prepared to let him. Rooney is of inconsistent form and fitness, and does not exactly strike one as the kind of player whose relevance and usefulness will carry on well into his thirties.
As someone who routinely comes back out of shape in one way or another from international tournaments, and whose last run of good form ended with someone treading on his foot followed by a title capitulation and the man himself borrowing Jon Parkin’s first touch for two and a half years.
With or without Roo?
Rooney is a player whose praise is often tempered with the disclaimer “When he’s on form…” Well, yes. The same could also be said of many players, but any savvy club knows not to offer a player an amount of money to compensate them playing at their best 100% of the time, owing to it being very unlikely to happen. Rooney’s troughs in form have been as long and as steep as his peaks, and a dwindling contract is widely known to be more effective than any performance-enhancing drug.
In any case, it’s worth asking just how good Rooney’s peaks actually are. There’s no doubt at all he’s a fine player on his day, but he’s hardly at the level of Messi or Ronaldo, the only two other players in the world on a comparable salary who are playing at sensible clubs who make the effort to pretend their entire ethos is not solely based on lucre. He might be the decisive influence in many a game, but he’s not going to win an encounter single-handedly when all around have fled, as any miserable surrender from the past few years at Anfield will attest.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 25, 2014
Apart from anything else, Rooney has become expendable at United simply because there are players who do his job better. Juan Mata is a far better choice for the number 10 role, and if played there in the absence of interference from Rooney, could give United the edge they need to launch a more effective title campaign next season. Danny Welbeck brings goals whenever he is played up front, combined with far more effective leg-work. Robin van Persie is better than Rooney at leading the line and scoring goals out of nothing, and Adnan Januzaj has the edge-of-your-seat style to him that has long since abandoned the striker. We’ll also leave aside the laughable notion that Rooney is going to move deeper into midfield and become the new Paul Scholes. Rooney’s long passing is very decent, but his short passing is frequently erratic, as is his touch. That’s fine if you’re the sole creative outlet of the team, but anyone else needs to be more reliable, which is probably why United intend to sign some midfielders to play there. Steven Gerrard, a man of similar pros and cons, has been moved to such a role to dismal effect this season.
In that context, Rooney is effectively relegated to being second-choice in all roles. Someone who can do a job in any of the above positions but probably wouldn’t be starting if United had anyone acceptable on the right wing so as not to likely stick Mata out there. Since the Spaniard joined United from Chelsea, Rooney is effectively a squad player.
And not even Anzhi Makhachkala paid £300,000 a week for one of those.
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