When Wayne Rooney was dropped against Leicester City last weekend, many of the club’s fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Whilst the former Evertonian has had a tremendous career at Old Trafford lasting over 12 years, and will surely end this season as its all-time top goalscorer, but he has been a weak link in United’s attack for some time. Given the age that he started playing football, his body is seemingly several years older than the 30-year old we see in the Premier League each week, and that’s contributed to a loose first touch, indiscipline when it comes to tactics and a general flagging of his abilities.
Not that it appears to have altered the way he is perceived from the club, of course. Rooney is often praised to the hilt by Jose Mourinho and his influence was praised by vice-captain Chris Smalling after last weekend’s victory over Leicester. His manager had plenty of encouraging words for his captain when asked about his place in the side for both club and country.
“Wayne is the captain, no matter what,” said Mourinho as reported by Sky Sports during his weekly press conference. “It doesn’t matter whether he is on or off the pitch. He is my captain and the captain of the club and the captain of the players. And that is difficult, to be the captain of everyone. So he has all the respect and all the support. He is a Manchester United man, he is a great professional and wants to win and of course he was happy when we scored.
“He is speaking to the players and motivates people. He does exactly in the dressing room the same as he did a couple of weeks ago when he was starting matches. He is our man. He will score goals for us and he will work hard for us, I have no doubts about it.”
So far, at least, the decision not to start Rooney in the last three games hasn’t backfired, with United recording two wins and arguably only failing to beat Stoke City due to their complete inability to finish off several more-than presentable opportunities on Sunday. As such, there’s a sense of diplomacy in Mourinho’s words when it comes to dealing with Rooney, because he is dealing with an influential figure at his club, but there’s also little in the way of regret for not making him an automatic starter at this stage. That’s key, in particular, because United do need to move on from making Rooney a key part of their plans given his waning abilities, and it’s important that Mourinho retains the same strength that has seen him starting from the bench three times in the last week.