There seems to be some trouble looming in paradise when it comes to love birds Louis van Gaal and Wayne Rooney. Love is blind and that can be the only explanation for why van Gaal seems oblivious to Rooney’s non-stop dismal performances. Regardless of how bad Rooney may have been, he was unsubbable, undroppable and practically untouchable. Other players would get hauled off, dropped for weeks, or even sold on the back on one bad performance, but despite constantly being the worst player on the pitch (and normally by some distance) Rooney had some kind of force field protecting him from the managers wrath. Until recently.
Back in the summer, United let go of striker after striker, as van Persie, Falcao and Chicharito were all shown the exit door. Van Gaal was talking up Rooney in the press, saying that Wayne was going to grab 20-25 goals this season – something Rooney has shown zero signs of doing for years now – van Gaal was pinning his colors to the Wayne Rooney mast and even at the time, I felt it was a decision that could prove fatal to both Man United’s season and van Gaal’s reign as United boss.
We’ve spent the season so far watching Rooney put in near comically poor performances where he would continuously misplace the simplest 5 yard pass, have the first touch of a pub footballer with a hangover and his general movement resembling that of an unfit Dad doing his best at a father/son sports day. It makes you wonder why van Gaal, a man who decrees that his captain always plays, would put the armband on a player who has a reputation for going through poor patches of form on a relatively regular basis.
The last couple of games has seen Rooney lose a little of that untouchable aura. He was subbed off against Leicester City, and van Gaal has made subtle changes in his view on Man United’s striker options. From predicting a 25 goal haul from Rooney, to suddenly saying that if United had a world class striker they would score more goals. LVG musing about United’s lack of goals and deciding that if he had an Aguero or a Suarez in his team, they would score goals in this side. Publicly pining for that caliber of player indirectly says that he doesn’t think Wayne Rooney is a player of that caliber anymore. Rooney not being as good as Aguero or Suarez is probably not a shock to most people, but for van Gaal to actually publicly admit and acknowledge it, suggests that at the very least a small change in the dynamic of their relationship has occurred.
Previously, van Gaal would routinely defend Rooney’s inclusion in the United first team, by saying that Wayne brings more to the team than goals and performances; he also brings leadership, motivation and general ability to bond the team together. Which makes it very puzzling that Rooney didn’t travel to Germany for United’s most important game of the season so far, against Wolfsburg. Would it not be crucial for such a big dressing room figure, club captain to be there with his teammates on such an important night? I know he is currently injured, but its reportedly only a minor knock, and even Luke Shaw, but a horribly broken leg, has managed to travel with the squad for morale support, so why not the captain? Instead, while the rest of the team were in Germany on Monday evening going through various preparations, Rooney was sitting in the stands at Goodison Park with his son watching Everton play Crystal Palace.
Domestically, in Rooney’s absence, United were held to another Old Trafford 0-0 draw, this time by West Ham. If you only checked the score line you would see the 0-0 and think “same old, same old” and assume it was another dull, insipid game, but in it was actually a marked improvement on the majority of United games this season. There were chances, and more than one of them too. The opposition keeper actual made some saves and United played the game slightly faster than walking pace. They looked more fluid – if still lacking in quality – without their supposed talisman.
It’s not even a tough argument to make anymore that United are probably better off without Rooney at this stage, and we may now be seeing the first steps in the two parties finally parting company. With Rooney playing for Everton in Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial, his more frequent appearances in the crowd at Goodison Park and his social media parading of Kai Rooney decked out in Everton kits, it could be construed that Rooney is testing the waters, and mending bridges ahead of a possible return to his boyhood club; once a blue and all that. And with van Gaal starting to make less than positive noises about Rooney’s position, maybe United are willing to help him return home.
United and Rooney going their separate ways seems best for everyone involved – if you removed the bit about Rooney’s massive wages. A new challenge in a fresh environment could be just the thing that Wazza needs to give him back a bit of a motivation. Getting back to playing at his best is probably a stretch at this stage, but he could at least maybe master the basics again, like not losing possession every time he touches the ball. From United’s point of view, they are in the process of rebuilding right now, and while everyone lauds their defensive solidity, there is a huge issue creating anything up front. Rooney is a massive part of that issue. Breaking up more attacks than opposition defenders, lack of pace and movement and a nonexistent first touch means that Rooney is holding this team back from an offensive point of view.
Maybe Rooney will end up back at Everton in a romantic pit stop before retiring, or maybe he would like the bright lights of the MLS while his name still has some brand value attached to it, but either way, I think any resurgence of form in what’s left of his career, will need to happen away from Old Trafford.