While Jose Mourinho was the man who had to face the media after Manchester United’s third successive defeat on Sunday, Wayne Rooney once again has become the central figure in the post-mortem.
It seems that with every negative result for United, or indeed England, it is virtually automatic that the attacker is to blame. Not even the disappointing display of £89 million Paul Pogba could save the captain from the lion’s share of the criticism.
The debate among British pundits and media this week seems to focus on the extent to which Rooney should be sacrificed allowing Pogba to accede to the throne of United’s primary creative force.
Should he be dropped deeper? Dropped entirely?
There is no doubting the forward deserves no immunity, but surely he merits the respect of the press in a country for whom he is the all-time leading goalscorer?
— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) September 19, 2016
Rooney’s form this season has been patchy at best and he had an absolute shocker against Watford.
This is a player though, that has won everything in the European game and been the brightest hope of a nation for over a decade. It just seems that England’s perpetual underachievement has transformed itself into a bandwagon beneath which Rooney must be pushed – with or without good reason.
Bobby Charlton, a United legend of old and the man whose England goals record the current Red Devil recently surpassed, was afforded more grace as his career wound down.
Perhaps it is that Charlton had the success of 1966 to endear him to a nation rather than just one club. Perhaps it’s Rooney’s salary, or the fact that his personal life has never aided him in the public eye. Either way, it is of little use now to appraise him other than on purely football terms.
United fans are less damning on a regular basis than the media or wider football public but it seems the majority now doubt their captain’s place in the side.
The decision of whether or not to drop the player now rests with Mourinho. The Portuguese will surely prioritise form and tactics before reaching his conclusion.
It is currently difficult to make a case for Rooney’s inclusion but the way in which his career is written-off repeatedly must be considered unfair.
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) September 19, 2016
The former Everton man is only 30, granted with a lot of miles on the clock, but he is good enough to adapt.
Enough natural talent remains, even if pace does not, for him to continue flourishing at the top level. There are things in his locker now, gathered with experience, that did not exist when he first exploded onto the scene.
The bruising bundle of youthful power that once stormed past centre-backs is gone but then the Ryan Giggs that drew acclaim, well beyond his mid 30’s, was a different player to the flying winger of the 1990’s.
If the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic pointed to the end of Rooney’s reign as the Red Devils’ showpiece striker, the Swede’s early season form confirmed it. Regardless of what role Rooney can have under Mourinho going forward, he must now take steps to give himself the best possible chance.
Should Wayne Rooney be dropped from the Manchester United starting XI?
Watch ESPN FC at midnight ET on ESPNEWS!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 18, 2016
The obvious answer is for him to walk away from England – it might even give him some satisfaction to turn his back on the Three Lions.
With the merit of his inclusion constantly debated, his own strong will to succeed in an England jersey might just begin to fade.
Out of all the managers he has played under, Sam Allardyce seems the least likely to find a role which suits his style.
His withdrawal might also offer opportunity for the likes of Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge or even Marcus Rashford to thrive on the international stage.
If the United skipper needed any supporting evidence for the argument, he should look no further than former long-time team-mate Paul Scholes, who left the International scene in 2004 and enjoyed such a strong second half to his career that Sir Alex Ferguson even felt the need to coax him out of total retirement half-way through the 2011-12 season.
John Terry at Chelsea is another fine example, on the pitch at least.
The Blues centre-half has been as dominant as ever in recent seasons since the end of his England career. Even at the ripe old age of 35, there is still regular clamouring for him to reverse his decision.
There is no question that Rooney’s current performance levels are below what Manchester United need, but he is merely an aspect of the puzzle for Mourinho rather than the entire reason the Old Trafford side are stuttering.
While the manager must shape the immediate future for both Rooney and the club, the player himself must begin to think about steps he can take to prolong his reign as one of the greatest players of his generation.