As everyone will know by now, Louis van Gaal has made Wayne Rooney his Manchester United captain for the upcoming season.
There had been all sorts of speculation about whether the Dutchman would opt for his compatriot Robin van Persie in that role, or whether Rooney – who was earmarked for the job under David Moyes – would be awarded the honour.
Now we know. Rooney it is.
The question we now need to ask is: is this the right decision?
Of course, ultimately we won’t know the answer until a few games have been played. But if I’m honest, I have my doubts.
First things first, Wayne Rooney does not love Manchester United. This fact has been made inescapably obvious by two failed ‘attempts’ to leave the club; on two separate occasions the English striker has held United to ransom in order to secure the most lucrative contract he could.
The first was in October 2010, when Rooney decided that he’d had enough at Old Trafford, shortly before signing a new five-year, bumper deal.
The situation was repeated last summer, after what looked from the outside like a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson. David Moyes coaxed his former Everton star into staying, and in order to cement his status as a United player, offered him a frankly ludicrous £300,000 a week for five-and-a-half years.
I’m not attempting to shock you. I know that you won’t be surprised to read about yet another footballer’s mercenary attitude towards the game, but it does illustrate an important point: Rooney only seems to care about himself. To me, that is not a characteristic that any fan would want to see in their club captain.
But it’s not just his attitude that has a massive question mark hanging over it. It’s also his form.
To be fair to the player, last season he was probably United’s best. But to be realistic, that’s not really saying a lot. When Rooney burst onto the scene in 2002, he was lively, exciting and adventurous – a fan’s dream. But in the last few years, his form has been decidedly iffy.
Sure, he’s scored a decent amount of goals. But he’s also had massively long periods when he’s lost all semblance of form and barely even looked like a footballer on the pitch. This is what United should be concerned about.
The captain needs to be consistent. He needs to be a leader. Other players need to be able to count on him. When the chips are down, they’ll look to their captain to deliver. I’m really not sure that Rooney is that sort of player.
The other issue is that when Rooney is going through a period of poor form, what he really needs is to be dropped for a few games so that he can work on his fitness. But if he’s captain, it will make it a lot more difficult for van Gaal to do that. Say the Dutchman leaves out his captain Rooney for an important league game because he’s been rotten for the previous three and he needs to get on the treadmill and shed some pounds. Do we really think the media are going to accept that? Of course they’re not.
I can just see the headline now: ‘Van Gaal Axes Skipper’. We can imagine the press conferences: ‘Is Rooney Injured?’, ‘Does Wayne want to leave?’, ‘Have you and Roo fallen out?’.
I suppose my point is that by making Rooney captain, van Gaal has opened himself up to a whole lot more media attention. If Rooney’s not at his best at the start of the season, van Gaal will be criticised. If he is playing well, then he’ll be under pressure to play him in every game, even if his form takes a turn for the worse.
Among many points of failure, David Moyes’ overreliance on Rooney was a contributing factor that led to his downfall. It seemed like the Scot was in his thrall, that he was so desperate to keep the striker happy that he gave him whatever he wanted. Van Gaal had an opportunity to stamp his authority all over the squad and say, ‘Rooney’s just another player in the squad’. But he hasn’t done that. He might not regret it in a few month’s time. But he might.
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