Rooney’s virtuoso midfield display in The Champions League on Wednesday brought back memories of the recently retired ‘Ginger Prince’ in his pomp.
To supplement the strength of a team with a largely injured or off-form midfield , Manchester United have recently taken the measure of installing Wayne Rooney in the engine room. If Rooney was efficient and hard-working against Everton at the weekend, last night he displayed qualities mirrored in only a handful of midfielders on the planet.
Most football fans would probably agree that if United have a weakness it is in the midfield. Since Paul Scholes last trod the boards at The Theatre of Dreams United have been lacking a magician in the middle. Anderson refuses to step up to the plate. Fletcher is hard-working and selfless but few would pick him for their fantasy XI. Carrick is a good player but seems always to play within himself, in a sort of sleepy slumber. Cleverley looks the part but hasn’t had a run of games. So Rooney has been asked to take the midfield role that we all knew he could play with ease, and some suspect that he will end up filling.
After last night’s performance, Sir Alex Ferguson will surely be giving serious thought to employing him there on a full time basis, in a squad that has for more quality options in attack than in midfield. United will struggle to buy a world class midfielder in the January window so they will have to get through the business end of the season with what they have. The continued concern of the discerning is that, come spring, they will be found wanting in the middle of the park in the crunch games in England and in Europe.
In terms of trying to play your best 11 players, it would seem pragmatic to plug the problem area of midfield with a world class talent and give Hernandez another strike partner, such as Berbatov or Wellbeck. If the Bulgarian ever became the player that United thought they had bought, Rooney might have found himself playing the midfield maestro long before now. Alternatively, Fergie could play a 4-3-3 with any two of Valencia, Young and Nani supplying blistering pace on the counter and great crosses into the box for the lone ranger Hernandez, with Rooney arriving late. Either way, Rooney would stiffen up the midfield whilst also offering exceptional amounts of creativity and penetrative passing.
But the argument for playing Rooney deeper deosn’t stop there. In the centre of the park he also sees more of the ball. So United get their most dangerous player involved in the game, pulling the strings. And how. From 60 yard pinged passes with the outside of his boot, through deft one-twos, to lung bursting box to box runs, Rooney really was the definitive, perfect midfielder. An awesome ally to his defence and attack. One suspects that he might also rediscover his early talent for picturebook long distance goals from this position. A site that the audience have been denied on a regular since the humdinger against Newcastle a few years back.
And, crucially, having a ‘midfielder’ as complete and as dominant in there as Rooney means that Fergie could be more confident about only playing a two in midfield in big games – a notion that would appeal to his traditional penchant for playing two wingers.
In every way, Rooney looms like a mid to late twenties Paul Scholes, but with even more presence and potential. Precision passing short and long, shooting, dictating the tempo and tracking back, Rooney’s statistics for the game spoke of the magical combination of hard-work and creativity. Players expressions usually betray their thoughts and, thus, Rooney bubbled in the post-match interview when asked about the idea of playing in the middle more often. He simply wants to be involved in the game and, although his goal-scoring potential is marginally limited from this position, he sees that he can have the Zidane effect on games from the centre. And I genuinely believe that he could be as good as Zidane was in that position. Eveyrone hates the overuse of the term but Rooney really is a true talisman for United, maturing week on week and becoming ever more central to all that is good about the Manchester team..
If you are lucky enough to have a world class player in your side, you want to get him on the ball. With Rooney in midfield that is precisely what happened last night and, despite a below par performance from United against technically proficient opposition, Rooney was a joy to watch.