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In the middle of Wayne’s world

To evolve (verb; develop gradually)

On Friday, it’ll be ten years since Wayne Rooney announced his arrival in the Premier League with a stunning strike against Arsenal, at the tender age of 16.

Last Friday the Croxteth-born boy captained England in a competitive match for the first time in his career, a fitting final paragraph to the chapter that is his first decade in the Premier League.

Rooney’s first ten years in the league have been marred by controversies – on and off the pitch – scattered with injuries and, more importantly, laden with goals – 199 in all competitions for club and country at the time of writing – and trophies – four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League to name but a few – and have witnessed a slow yet constant development in his persona, first and foremost and, subsequently, in his game.

For the Rooney we know now, while still passionate and totally committed to the game, has nothing of the wild, raw passion and intemperance of the teenager that burst onto the scene at Goodison Park nor as much of that bullish behaviour we became so accustomed to associate with him in the early stage of his career.

This season Rooney is facing the biggest change in his game yet, as more and more often his name has been linked with a different area of the pitch from the one that has constituted his usual pasture over the last ten years.

When a fitter, leaner Wayne Rooney was deployed in midfield against Newcastle United a fortnight ago, Manchester United did what they had been unable to do for quite some time – grasping the game by the scruff of its neck from the start and dishing out a footballing lesson to one the country’s top six teams on their own turf, like the United of old used to do.

To attribute the renewed vigour in the performance to a single man would be foolish and short-sighted, but managers and players alike immediately hailed Rooney’s contribution, some going as far as staking his candidature for a permanent role in midfield for club and country – an option with which even England manager Roy Hodgson admitted to have been flirting with.

Sir Alex Ferguson knows extremely well that one game in United’s engine room is not enough to gauge how crucial Rooney might or might not be to his team’s fortunes when asked to play away from the front line, but the Scot has also repeatedly professed that “Rooney can play anywhere”, an opinion shared by many of football’s crowned heads.

United have lacked a midfielder able to unlock defences for quite some time now. Despite his return from retirement, the wonderful Paul Scholes can’t be considered a long-term solution and while Tom Cleverley has started the season very promisingly, it’d be wide of the mark to charge him with the burden of being a ready-made replacement for his older team-mate, yet Sir Alex has stubbornly refused to spend money on a quality midfielder, leading many United fans to question his decision making in the transfer business.

How odd of United to splash £24m on a striker when they desperately required a midfielder with great vision and with a sense of goal. And yet, maybe, just maybe we’re starting to see the bigger picture for Sir Alex seems determined to deploy Rooney deeper on the pitch.

Gary Neville, described his former team-mate as “a wonderful player, one that is at his best when he’s like the street kid; fighting for every ball, taking every free kick, every throw-in, tackling and heading, fighting to win.”

Those two lines contain many a reason why Wayne Rooney should (must?) be United’s driving force in midfield for years to come. His detractors point at his first touch not being quite like Scholes’, but how many players can claim to caress the ball like the Ginger Prince?

For all his flaws, Rooney is  one of United most technically gifted players and one whose burning desire for the game, while mellowed with maturity, hasn’t flickered. If anything, his “street kid” attitude Gary Neville referred to would be a breath of fresh air for United, who have lacked an intimidating figure in the middle of the park since Roy Keane left the club.

“Ryan Giggs has gone from a flying left winger to someone who now plays off the front at inside left as well as central midfield.

“Paul Scholes was a goalscoring number 10 player when he first started as a 16-year-old, now he’s a holding midfield player who controls the game.

“You have to adapt. Rooney is still a centre forward, but he’ll adapt over the next 10 years to become someone who’s thought of in that same way as those two players,” said Gary Neville.

Considering that Scholes and Giggs are both approaching the home straight of their careers, by taking over their mantles in midfield Rooney would take much more than their position on the pitch, he’d also accept the responsibility that comes with being one of the senior heads in the team.

Now, that would be an interesting way to start the second decade of his career.


On this blog I’ve often lamented the lack of a midfielder (idea which I still maintain) and the mixed feelings I harbour towards Wayne Rooney since his 2010 contract debacle. Whether the idea of Fergie making him the lynchpin of our team is plausible or not, I don’t know. But perhaps we should indulge in the thought…


Dan (@MUFC_dan87)



  1. Stephen

    October 16, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Rooney in midfield is the Fergie square pegs in round holes. He was negligent with the fact he failed to secure a natural midfield player this Summer. Rooney will get stick by many fans, but he is a number 10 and should play behind RvP.

  2. Stephen

    October 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Ps it is nice for a change not to be talking about a certain Portuguese winger!

    • Moscow

      October 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      @Stephen: I don’t want to say this blog has an agenda but a thread slating Nani (even a poll on whether he should leave) after a thread which praised Anderson as the new Dembele was astonishing, to say the least.

      • Daniele

        October 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        @Moscow: There’s no agenda whatsoever. I disagree with the people backing Anderson myself, I think we should get rid of him asap. As far as Nani is concerned, I totally understand where you’re coming from mate. Yes, he’s talented and can’t change the game in an instant and yes he should be the only one getting blamed when the whole team isn’t performing but you must admit that he hasn’t really helped his cause this year, has he? The contract situation, decking Petrucci and all that…

  3. Moscow

    October 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Made his name as a goalscorer and was talked of in the same breath as Ronaldo and Messi in the 09/10 season when he was our lone striker leading the line, scored 34 goals before his fateful injury in March.

    Kagawa should be playing in the hole and Rooney should play alongside RVP. The 4-4-2 diamond would work wonders with those 3 especially as 3 average/poor midfielders would be doing the donkey work behind them. It’s about time Rooney played in his natural striker position instead of dropping deep to cover the holes in midfield, which he didn’t do particularly well mind.

    If England play their cards right they should play him up front on his own and overcrowd the midfield, they will fare much better than the footballing lessons served to them by Germany and Italy. I would go with the same 4-5-1 system for United if it weren’t for the fact that we just bought one of the top 3 strikers in the world.

    • Redrich

      October 17, 2012 at 12:44 am

      @Moscow: Rooney has always had the tendency to play deeper than a striker should and does seem to revel in the idea that he’s running the show. So I’d say give this a shot and see what happens – who knows!! 😯

      But I do agree with Stephen in that Ferguson has been forced to make this move with the realization that he has no MF or defense to speak of, and if he wants to include Kagawa as the trequartista, (which, as it appears, is the only role he can play effectively) there is no room for Rooney to play in the hole.
      Simply put, Ferguson has not put together this squad with any thought of what is needed – he has bought based on individual players that he likes and then throws them on the pitch to see if the chemistry works.
      Maybe Rooney is the glue that holds it all together, but then again maybe not!!

  4. Oz

    October 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    I’m totally behind the idea of Rooney being a box-to-box midfielder. Totally.

    He has everything we need in midfield. He has vision. He can pick a neat pass. He can fight for possession. He can run for days. He has a long shot. He has a burning desire to win. I don’t understand why we don’t try him in central midfield.

    Kagawa can only play efeectively at number 10.

    Van Persie, Welbeck, Kagawa and Chicharito have enough goals in them. Why don’t we balance the team by playing Rooney in a position that has needed filling for a long time? He is this missing link in our set up. He definately should be our driving force in midfield. City have Yaya Toure and he was been vital in midfield for them. Chelsea have Lampard and Liverpool have Gerrard all as goal scoring threats from midfield.

    I say Rooney is the answer.

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