With Juan Mata’s arrival imminent, Jon Wilmore speculates on Wayne Rooney’s future at Old Trafford…
It’s happening – it’s actually happening. But when the initial ecstasy over Juan Mata’s arrival at Manchester United dies down, Moyes and the boys are going to face another question entirely – where on earth do they actually play him?
The question has been raised throughout the media, with nobody quite certain enough to reach a general consensus. United have recent experience of purchasing a star player from a rival whose position was ostensibly not their weakest – a purchase that basically won them the league.
After reluctantly relinquishing the role of star centre forward to Robin van Persie last year, Wayne Rooney has seemed a man renewed in the Dutchman’s absence, thriving up top and again as a number 10 in behind Danny Welbeck. But now, it must happen again.
Despite his annual return to form, Wayne isn’t happy. Having twice tried and failed to secure himself a move (or, as it actually turned out, get himself more money), Rooney has effectively held the club to ransom because they couldn’t afford to let him go. With the arrival of Mata, that is no longer the case.
There can be no question that the Spaniard’s best position is in behind the striker – a combination with van Persie is the stuff of footballing wet dreams. There may be no shortage of options in this position – Kagawa has struggled for games in his preferred part of the pitch, and Moyes seems intent on fielding Januzaj there despite him performing much better when he’s given space to work on the wing. But Mata’s record last season suggests that he’s a cut above the rest, and at least on a par with Rooney’s own form this season.
On the undeniable basis that Mata as a number 10 is, at the very least, as good a player as Rooney, then it is the Spaniard who must take precedence. That people could even question whether a £40 million 25 year old should start where he fits best at the expense of an older, more inconsistent man who has repeatedly tried to leave the club is baffling.
The argument, apparently, is that United need to keep Rooney happy. When he was one of only two genuinely world class players in the squad, that was undeniably the case. But now that a player with a longer future at the club – one who actually wants to play there – has been found, Rooney’s happiness must no longer be a priority.
Sir Alex Ferguson recognised that no matter his on the field impact, Rooney’s attitude made his position at the club untenable in the long term. Moyes – wisely, given the club’s summer transfer market failure – was able to reconcile the situation. Now, he doesn’t need to. He can offload the man who has put himself before the club one too many times without fearing the consequences, and truly begin to build a new team around a marquee player of incredible quality.
Obviously, Rooney’s not going anywhere until the summer. In the meantime, he can do a perfectly good job on the right wing, replacing Antonio Valencia’s poor crossing and repeated defensive lapses, or maybe in central midfield, where he performed admirably last year. He may not be happy about it – but the moment Mata arrives at Old Trafford, that doesn’t matter anymore.