The question of why Louis van Gaal has elected to switch Wayne Rooney into the midfield, as opposed to the England international’s most productive position at the head of Manchester United’s attack, has been beaten to death for the past several weeks.
There is little debate that Rooney would provide much-needed scoring to United’s sputtering attack if he were positioned up front rather than the deeper-lying role he has adopted in recent matches.
But at the present time, Rooney is Manchester United’s best midfield option. As much as some fans and pundits have continued to ignore the facts, United just don’t have another player who can perform the duties the team captain does in the middle of the pitch.
Van Gaal was forced to utilize the 29-year-old in a different role after injuries ruled out Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick at various points of the season; and following the departure of Darren Fletcher to West Bromwich Albion.
This week, Rooney was slotted in as a defensive midfielder after Daley Blind was substituted due to a head injury against Burnley. The manager was already without his number one choice (Carrick) in front of the back four and had no other option than to utilize Rooney that vital position.
Fellaini was on the bench, but the Belgium international is not a defensive midfielder; and United’s back four too shaky to entrust to players who can’t perform a shift in front of its fragile defense. Rooney’s selflessness and versatility made him Van Gaal’s only option at that time.
And the England international will continue to be called on to play out of position until the manager’s squad reaches full strength – or the club acquires the midfielders it needs during the summer transfer window.
Rooney himself may not like having to sacrifice his ideal position for the betterment of the team, but he’s doing it and has been effective. The fact that the player has not complained publicly or privately speaks to his professional maturation.
It wasn’t long ago that Rooney was complaining about his role under Sir Alex Ferguson, with the former United boss eventually relegating the striker to the bench before ultimately revealing that the player had asked to leave the club.
Ferguson made a habit of moving Rooney around the pitch as well, and the legendary manager also commented that the player could ultimately be moved to the midfield. But at the time, that assessment was met with contempt by Rooney and many football experts.
The player has since changed his tune and seems content with sacrificing his personal statistics for the better of the team.
While United have not looked like the attacking threat many fans and pundits thought they would be following the pre-season arrivals of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, they are somehow grinding out results.
Despite boasting what might be the worst central defense in the top flight, United have battled their way to third place on the Premier League table; only conceded 24 goals in 25 BPL matches. They’ve only lost once in their last eighteen games in all competitions.
That is an astounding feat considering the club’s lack of leadership at center-back, as well as Van Gaal being forced to start midfielders and teenagers in his back four due to injuries.
Much of the credit for United’s defensive record goes to goalkeeper David de Gea, who has stood on his at times this year. But the performances Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Wayne Rooney have put forth in front of the back four cannot be discounted – with Rooney making the ultimate sacrifice by playing out of position.