Since arriving at Manchester United, Mourinho’s record may not have been perfect thus far, but his management of England’s fading all-time top scorer has been perfect so far.
The no.9/no.10/no wherever-he-wants-as-long-as-he-plays has only started 1 game in the last 4 for the 20-time champions, the 4-1 Europa League win over Fenerbache, but appears to have lost his Premier League starting XI place. Naturally this suggests his days may be numbered at the club. But did Jose, Rooney’s fourth manager in 3 years, already foresee this on his arrival?
Upon Mourinho’s arrival in the summer, he said of Rooney: “For me he will be a No 9 or a No 10 or a nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6 or even a No 8.” And he has tried him there in the opening games of the season, to little or no effect, even giving him centre stage to impress as a striker against Northampton in the league cup, but again it was a case of tremendous effort, but no end product.
There is no mistaking what Rooney has done for Manchester United in hid 12 year tenure; 5 League titles, the European Cup, an FA Cup, and individually is the 2nd ever highest Manchester United and Premier League goalscorer, the former a record he only needs 4 to beat. But despite his efforts, particularly when he has played this season, he now looks off the pace and what contributions he has made thus far have been more fortuitous than excellence.
Mourinho has been clever about this. He is a tactician through and through, and gradually removing Rooney from the starting XI whilst always praising him has been a masterstroke in of itself. After giving him his chance instead of dropping him from day one gives the fans, pundits and journalists the evidence they needed that removing him is for the good of the team, whilst also ensuring Jose is not the bad guy.
Further proof of this came in his most recent interview with Sky Sports, when asked if he would be ruthless enough to sell Rooney: “No, never. I will never make that decision. A player of his stature, a player of his history in the club will never go to point where club or manager want to make that decision for him.”
Jose doesn’t want to make that decision, he wants Rooney to make that decision for himself. Benching him in this way should give Rooney enough time to reflect on what is best for himself and his team mates, and for me that could well be a move elsewhere. He has had time to work on adapting his game in a more sentinel role, much like Steven Gerrard did in his final seasons at Liverpool, but it seems Wayne cannot help but want to play everywhere, which he simply doesn’t have the legs for anymore.
Jose was in a similar position with Frank Lampard in his second Chelsea stint; despite being the club’s all time goal scorer, he was used more selectively and was ultimately released after 13 years at the club. It was the best decision for both the player and the club, who went on to win the title the following season with style. But the time for Rooney to adapt in any way to prolong his career, possibly like Paul Scholes before him, is quickly running out at the club, despite turning just 31 on Monday. In a club that appears to have almost limitless resources, like Jose was used to at Chelsea and Real Madrid, we’re more likely to be left with thoughts of what might have been had Rooney left Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson retired.