Wayne Rooney Can Be The Midfielder Both Manchester United And England Need For Years To Come


Nestled neatly in the ‘Forwards’ section between Marcus Rashford and Daniel Sturridge on England’s 26-man long list for the Euros, you’ll find the familiar name of Wayne Rooney. For a dozen or more years he’s been a constant in that elite four-to-five man grouping. 

This is the last time we’ll see the captain’s name that far down the sheet.

Whether he wants it that way or not, very soon the record goalscorer knows he’ll be vying for a place in the ‘Midfield’ part of the orchestra instead.

And that’s for his club, as well as country.

While he’s still capable of scoring goals as a forward for Manchester United, it’s hard to imagine Louis van Gaal (or his replacement) choosing the 30-year-old in preference to the younger, speedier Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial, in anything other than an emergency.

He’d do a fine job as part of a front two, but if they persist with a lone striker, those rookies stretch opponents in a way that Rooney cannot – and for all his quality, the team he skippers has looked happier with a front man that drags opponents towards their own goal.

Reverting back to Rooney, in all senses of the phrase, would be a backward step. On top of that, a new centre forward will also surely arrive at Old Trafford between now and August.

So as the dust settled on his outstanding man-of-the-match performance in central midfield against Bournemouth on Tuesday night, it was no surprise that Rooney said; “Sometimes you have to make choices in your career and at the moment it's better for me to play deeper.”

The truth is, he doesn’t have a choice.

With Kane, Vardy, Sturridge and Rashford all ahead of him the queue for England (at least on current form) dropping back into the engine room is the only way Wayne Rooney will be able to get a game, moving forwards.

Is he talented enough to change positions, and instantly be picked on merit ahead of those who’ve spent their whole careers trying to master the role?

Many people say no, but I’m not one of them.

Obviously there will be far stiffer tests than Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s boys sat off and let Rooney peacock his way through a 90-minute exhibition that was Hoddle-esque, but it was a false examination.

Good footballers though - and Rooney has always been far better than good - can play anywhere, and I don’t know if there are too many of his midfield contemporaries that possess his passing range and natural football brain.

He’d have been bossing training sessions for years performing in a midfield type role. All he needs to do now is harness that, and take it into matches.

They look lovely, but Rooney’s 50-yard Hollywood switch passes really must be rationed. Mixing up his distribution with short, long and mid-range service is the best way forward, and the only way we can really take his switch seriously.  I’m sure that will happen.

In terms of comfort on the ball, vision, and variety, Rooney is top class. That’s why he should try and become the type of central midfielder that Santi Cazorla has transformed himself into at Arsenal.

At international level England have been crying out for someone to control possession with the authority of someone like Cazorla (and it’s why Jack Wilshere is such a favourite) so Hodgson must be eyeing Rooney for a similar role.

With discipline, he has a chance. It’s not as if he shirks his defensive duties is it?

We spent most of his fledgling years bemoaning his eagerness to charge around thepitch making tackles. From now onwards, that will form part of his remit - and against the Cherries no one retrieved possession as often as he did.

By digging his heels in and insisting on staying on as a striker, within 12 months Rooney will be on the periphery for United and England.

He’s sensible enough to know that, and it’s why he’s so content to change.

Crystal Palace will try and rough him up in this Saturday’s FA Cup Final, you can be sure of that, but don’t be surprised if he’s the best player on the Wembley pitch.

Rooney the central midfielder can add three or seasons to his already illustrious career.