Almost three years ago to the day Wayne Rooney sat down with a room full of journalists and discussed, among other things, his falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson during the Scot’s final season in charge at United.
The player had notably been dropped for the Champions League clash with Real Madrid’s Old Trafford in favour of Danny Welbeck and had also been required to play in midfield on a number of occasions towards the end of the 2012/13 season. Rooney wanted to play and start up front and when that hadn’t happened as often as he required he began to sulk and clashed with Ferguson:
“Everyone at the club knew that’s where I wanted to play (centre-forward). I think that’s why I was disappointed - because I got told to play in midfield and I didn’t want to. Of course, I’d always go in and try to help the team, but I think there had to come a point where, for my own career, I had to be a bit selfish, really. Naturally, I was a bit disappointed and maybe that affected some of the games I played.”
Three years on and Rooney sat in the press conference before England’s game with Malta and made a noticeably similar pitch, except this time his insistence was that he should play in midfield, now that he had become aware that his legs were failing him. He made a case to Gareth Southgate and Jose Mourinho that he could be the ‘transition’ man in the centre of the park, but that he wasn’t being given the chance to do it. One can only think that his comments were aimed at his club manager, given that both Hodgson and now Southgate have used him in midfield. Perhaps one line should be of concern to United’s boss though:
“There will come a time, if I’m not playing, I might have to be more selfish in terms of where I want to play and make that clear.”
‘Selfish’ in his 2013 scenario involved falling out with the manager, asking to leave and reduced performance levels due to an ongoing sulk. Having already ruled out playing Rooney consistently in midfield and identified that his captain is no longer up to the task as a forward or number 10, the future of the player’s relationship with Mourinho does not look bright. Three years ago Rooney still held a lot of the cards and remained a hugely influential figure at the club, on and off the pitch. Today he holds very few. Of course, if he wants to leave because he feels he isn’t playing enough or where he wants to play then that is his prerogative and it is a choice that hundreds of players across the country take every year. However, if ‘selfish’ once again means falling out with the manager and even poorer performances on the pitch, then I suspect that there will be only one winner and the ending will be swift. Welcome to Guangzhou Evergrande Mr Rooney.
Speaking of Rooney, it was disappointing to see England fans booing the player during the game against Malta last weekend. As he is at United, the player can be classed as a genuinely legendary player for his country and although his talents have almost completely deserted him booing serves no purpose but to potentially reduce the player’s performance level further. Because it was not clear (i.e. I was drunk and half-watching the game in a bar with the sound off), one can only assume that the supporters thought he was having a poor game, but there are very few circumstances in which it is acceptable to rain invective down on an individual player. As fed up as many United and England fans are with his performances, it is not Rooney’s fault that he is picked and instructed to play in a certain position. Criticise the way he plays or the things he says in the pub, but don’t single a guy out en masse when he’s on the pitch. Even taking into account the potentially divisive comments I highlighted about Rooney above, the man deserves respect when he’s on the field.
Next up is Ryan Giggs, wannabe football manager but yet to take employment nearly five months after his contract at United expired. With Giggs in the frame to become his club’s manager when it appeared unlikely that Louis Van Gaal would survive past the summer, it was the opinion of many of the fans that it would be foolish to appoint a novice to the biggest job in domestic football. Surely it would be better for him to learn his trade further down the pyramid, where his skills could be developed without the same intense media scrutiny and short-term goals he would face at United or any other high profile club. Most recently Giggs was linked with the Swansea job and there have been rumours that he was not offered the position after a poor interview. This week he commented on those links after the job was given to Bob Bradley. He had spoken to the club, he said, but that, “I just felt their ambitions did not really match mine, so it didn’t quite work out.” There are two ways to look at these comments. On the one hand they could be a rather transparent face saving exercise, proof that Giggs learned much from United EVP Ed Woodward, having been overlooked for the job. This seems most likely. On the other hand, if we take what he says at face value, then he is essentially saying that he can do better than Swansea. That’s either a brave or a foolish tack. Nine Premier League clubs have changed manager since the Welshman has been unemployed and he is not working for any of them. It seems incredibly unlikely that a club with a higher profile will trust a rookie, however well respected, and his comment may have just persuaded those that inhabit the same realm as Swansea to not bother approaching him, even if they were interested in appointing a coach with no experience whatsoever. Championship clubs, some of which would be a great place for him to start out, will surely now assume that he has no desire to lower himself to them. There is a perception amongst some United fans that Giggs feels an inflated sense of entitlement, originally to the top job at Old Trafford and now to a high-profile Premier League position. Whether that it an unfair characterisation or not, he has just provided them with some ammo and other prospective employers will certainly have noted his comments. Giggs is wealthy enough to bide his time and wait for something better, but he may well be waiting a very long time.
International breaks are often purgatory for United fans, forced to wait a fortnight to see their heroes and concerned that momentum built beforehand will be lost. This weekend off, however, feels different. The Stoke draw was a mighty blow, regardless of the performance, and Mourinho’s team head to Anfield in a week’s time vulnerable and under pressure. Juergen Klopp’s team has made a flying start to the campaign, whilst United are yet to look the sum of their parts. It is hard to remember feeling less confident going into a league game on Merseyside. The international break has hopefully been a positive this time, allowing some of the disappointment after the Stoke result to dissipate and for minds to be taken off next Monday’s game, defeat in which would leave United heading towards mid-table two months into the season. It is a game that can be won, but all facets of the side will need to perform at once, from the defence to the profligate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, something that has rarely happened this campaign.
At the time of writing none of Mourinho’s players have been reported as having sustained an injury playing for their countries, while Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have had valuable recuperation time in Manchester. United need both back in the side and playing to their potential. Paul Pogba started France’s 4-1 victory over Bulgaria but had a difficult game as all around him excelled and was widely criticised in the French media. Despite a confident, almost arrogant persona, the player has clearly struggled with the pressure of his world record move, but he must overcome his nerves and start to perform consistently for his club. If United are to win at Anfield they will need a huge performance from Pogba. I’m an atheist, but if you have faith yourselves, pray for Pogba and pray for United. Both will need it next Monday.