Leicester City 5 Manchester United 3 was one of the more bizarre games in Premier League history.
It wasn’t just that the future champions, a team who at the time weren’t so much relegation candidates as certainties, managed to put five past Louis van Gaal’s men, it wasn’t that Radamel Falcao looked the part, or that Jamie Vardy didn’t, it was also that as the Foxes bagged their third goal, Wayne Rooney looked about as suited to the captaincy as Angel Di Maria did for a Jacamo advert.
The sight of the newly appointed United skipper ranting and snarling at his team mates after they conceded a goal, which actually came about from him losing possession, was one that angered a lot of Reds who immediately came convinced Rooney wasn’t captain material. In all honesty it didn’t take much for many fans to believe he wasn’t the right man to lead United, after all, rumours of him wanting to leave the Reds were almost a perennial occurrence. Rooney didn’t just stay at the club though, he stayed and became captain, a role which despite his obvious failings at, many of which were on display at the King Power Stadium that afternoon, he’s grown into. Although it could be argued, not quite enough.
There are some parts of being captain Rooney gets right, most of all his willingness to argue with the referee when he feels a decision against United is unfair- which is more or less any decision that goes against United while he’s playing. Rooney’s also a good poster boy for the money men, hardly something that’s likely to endear him the fans, but at the very least it’s a necessity he’s able to fulfil and help keep the United brand the behemoth it needs to be.
It’s easy to dismiss haranguing referees and flogging merchandise as simple tasks anyone wearing the skipper’s armband could fulfil we only have to look at United’s deputy captains to see they’re not tasks that should be so easily dismissed. Whenever Michael Carrick or Chris Smalling have filled in as captains any poor decision given against United is met with indifference, no matter how blatantly bad it is. As for being poster boys to help maintain the United brand, while both players are very able at their jobs on the pitch, call me a cynic but off the pitch dressing as a suicide ‘jaeger bomber’ or having the personality of 90 year-old librarian who’s fallen asleep is hardly cause for fans around the world to embark on a spending spree.
Rooney deserves credit for at least filling part of the role of skipper, the issue is can he fill the rest of it? One of the flaws in Rooney’s communication skills on the pitch is his inability to give the younger players around him anything other than a congratulatory hug when they score, or a look of disdain when they do something disappointing. If the former Evertonian can learn to be more than just a mouthpiece for the ref to ignore then he could offer the players around him some much needed encouragement at times when they may need it.
The impressive thing about Roy Keane or Bryan Robson’s captaincies was the way the two were able to organise, advise and when necessary admonish their team mates in a way that helped maintain the high standards United were once famous for.
It may sound harsh judging Rooney by such stellar standards, but if United are to reach the heights the Jose Mourinho era promises, then it’s time to start aiming for the kind of leadership Keane and Robson used to provide. Rooney’s grown into roles in the past, including his captaincy and with the right sort of guidance could become the leader the Reds have been crying out for on the pitch. At one point it seemed as though Bastian Schweinsteiger could help Rooney learn how to marshal the troops as the German instantly began organising those around him the minute he took to the pitch, the problem being he spent more time speaking to the medical staff than he did the playing ones as injuries prevented him from being anything other than an example of just how fragile even the great players can become.
Rooney is almost a self-taught skipper as the likes of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic become ever distant memories, while Patrice Evra wasn’t the sort of vocal skipper the Reds now need, the Frenchman was never afraid of verbosity but it was never his best asset. Rooney though is an inferior captain to any of the aforementioned quartet as other than speaking to the referee, he seems unwilling to offer his team mates anything even remotely leadership like and with his testimonial only a week away, not to mention the fact he’s captained both club and country for the best part of two years, it really is time he stepped up to the plate.
Hopefully Mourinho can help direct Rooney and mould him into the sort of captain the side needs as it may often be an overlooked role in terms of importance, but a good leader on the pitch can usually lead to trophies off it.