In previous years, Manchester United have been one of the Premier League’s most attacking sides and have tended to score plenty of goals throughout the 38-match campaign. This season, that’s all changed. Louis van Gaal’s men have scored just 21 goals in 16 matches and have struggled for balance in recent weeks. When they play attacking football, United lose. When they play defensively, they draw 0-0 and fail to entertain their fans.
One of the main reasons for their disappointing season is United legend Wayne Rooney. The club captain has been the focal point of the team’s play for so long but has really disappointed at the forefront of their attacking unit this campaign. At 30 years old, it’s not surprising to see Rooney in decline, however the speed of his deterioration will worry both United and England supporters – especially with the European Championships next summer.
Ultimately, Rooney isn’t good enough anymore. He has lost the explosive pace that he possessed during his younger days and his confidence is at an all-time low. For the majority of the season, fans have expressed their outrage at seeing him in the starting line-up, with many claiming he’s been getting in on reputation rather than performance.
Having said that, Rooney’s impact is much greater than just goals as United have lost back-to-back games without their captain. While it would be foolish to claim their poor run of form is solely due to Rooney’s absence, United supporters may reconsider their view on whether the England striker should remain at Old Trafford. If you’d asked that particular question just two weeks ago, the majority would have been calling for Rooney to go.
The main problem for United is the player’s wages. United gave their leading striker a huge payday in February last year and with over four years remaining on the deal, it’s unlikely that any major club will want to buy him out and take on Rooney’s colossal wage demands.
Realistically, the only way that the striker will leave the club is if United are willing to pay towards the cost of his wages. They did that with Nani during his loan spell with Sporting Lisbon before the Portuguese club made his deal permanent in the summer and could follow suit with Rooney in the near future.
All footballers eventually burn out and it would be naïve to suggest that everybody expected Wayne Rooney to play at the top level for the rest of his days. Since moving from Everton in 2004, he has averaged over 50 matches a season and his long, illustrious career is beginning to take its toll on ageing legs. He doesn’t cover as much ground nowadays and just doesn’t have the drive or physique to trouble opposing defences anymore.
However, one could argue that Rooney deserves the opportunity to decide his own future at Old Trafford. He is a club legend and sits just a few goals off Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time record. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the England striker leave the club, however it will be on his own terms. In an ideal world, Rooney will beat Charlton’s record this season and could leave for the MLS next summer – a decision that would be mutually beneficial for both the player and the club.
Given the choice, United fans would sell Rooney at the end of the season in a heartbeat. Yes, he’s been a great player over the years but far too many clubs have suffered after allowing ‘past-it’ footballers a free pass into the starting line-up. It will be difficult to see Wayne go but it’s time for the club to move on.