A disappointing season ended on a high for Wayne Rooney as he completed his domestic honour’s collection with a FA Cup winner’s medal.
The England captain, in keeping with recent seasons, endured a difficult campaign. Struggling for form, position and injuries. 8 league goals in 28 appearances represents his worst ever return since joining United, and is only two goals better than his return from his breakthrough season in 2002/2003.
To be fair to Rooney, United as a unit struggled for goals this season. Their tally of 49 is their lowest ever in a Premier League season. However for Rooney, as captain and supposedly in his prime, the low return will have been a personal blow.
The departure of Louis Van Gaal and the arrival of Jose Mourinho will lead to an overhaul of the United squad. Names will depart, some expected and some unexpected. The Portuguese coach will want to put his own stamp on the team.
Youth will play some role with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial likely to become key figures, while the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata will likely be moved on.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick are two others that will be looking over their shoulder, with age against them. However the future of Rooney is one that could make or break Mourinho.
The romance of it all suggests that the former Chelsea boss will revitalise the Liverpudlian and prolong his career in the same way he did with John Terry and Didier Drogba. Rooney can be important again and be the key man. It is just three years ago that Mourinho tried to sign the England forward. But a lot has changed since then – for both parties.
Rooney has not scored more than 20 leagues goals in a season since the 2011/2012 campaign while Mourinho, while still regarded as one of, if the not the, best in the game, has seen his stock fall after a shocking first half of the season with Chelsea in 2015/2016 that culminated in him being fired.
Mourinho’s United role will be two-fold; restore two fallen giants. A proven and determined winner, Mourinho needs to decide if Rooney can be the man to help his bring the Red Devils back to the top of the tree.
The early talk is he will have a considerable budget, rumoured to be upwards of £200 million. A sum in keeping with a man that likes to buy rather than build from within. The murmurs surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic continue.
The veteran former PSG forward would be quite the acquisition despite his advancing years and would bring a new dimension to the United forward line.
Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rashford and Rooney doesn’t fit. Rashford is young and of the four can be the most patient, but having tasted first team action and proven he can adjust and score, Mourinho would be foolish to allow a natural scoring talent, potentially the future of the club, to drop down the ranks.
Likewise Martial is young and has bags of potential. The Frenchman may have cost a reported £36 million but a return of 17 goals in all competition from a 20 year old gives a perfect insight to the talent the former Monaco man possesses.
Ibrahimovic will demand to be first choice, leaving Rooney as the odd man out.
It speaks volumes of the decline of Rooney as a forward that the 30 year old will need to be accommodated in the England side out wide alongside Harry Kane, than as a focal point of the attack. That Rooney now finds himself not knowing his best position is a conundrum for pundits, managers and the player himself.
He is not a midfielder, he is not a number 10 and at the moment he and others believe he is not a forward. He doesn’t have the pace to play out-wide for a counter-attacking fast moving side. Of all which leaves a big open question; What now for Rooney?