at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
According to Roberto Martinez, Wayne Rooney is the one forward in the Barclays Premier League who is impossible to prepare for.
It’s his movement, Everton’s manager will tell you. He’s so clever and so full of running, there is very little you can tell a defender ahead of an encounter with the Manchester United striker.
The energy levels certainly are astonishing, as Rooney once again demonstrated here at Old Trafford.
When Kieran Richardson accelerated past Nemanja Vidic shortly before half-time, it was Rooney who tracked back to make the vital interception when his colleagues in midfield had already decided that they would leave it to a defence in serious danger of conceding a second goal.
When they were eventually beaten for a second time, in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, it was Rooney who burst down the right wing to deliver what proved the last of United’s 81 crosses. Rooney who mustered one last effort from the depths of his astonishing reserves.
He gave everything against Fulham, as he always does.
But you have to question why he was making that run from the central midfield position he had been asked to occupy for the final 30 minutes of the game.
Just as you have to ask why, when he is such a potent force, is it Rooney who so often pays the price for his versatility. Part of the problem, it would seem, is accommodating Juan Mata and Rooney in the same side when they like to drift into much the same territory on a football pitch.
David Moyes tried to solve the problem by deploying Mata on the right flank and leaving Rooney to partner Robin van Persie in attack.
But United’s new £37million signing was soon moving inside and the more this match progressed the more the thinking behind how to use these two players looked confused. Mata is a good signing for Moyes, arriving at a time when a lack of creativity in the final third of the pitch has been a problem.
But, after a decent debut against Cardiff, the Spaniard has endured two rather less impressive performances and that has to be a concern. The fact that Rooney was absent from United’s starting line-up for the first of Mata’s three games — and has been on the pitch for the two games since then — is sure to puzzle Moyes. As is the fact that, of those 81 crosses, only 18 reached a United player.
In fairness, Fulham defended so deep any side would have found it difficult to break through.
Particularly when players like Maarten Stekelenburg and Dan Burn were as impressive as they were in protecting Fulham’s goal. But on an afternoon when United enjoyed 75 per cent of the ball, it should have been an awful lot more comfortable than it was.
Moyes might argue that there were greater concerns.
The ‘diabolical’ defending that enabled Darren Bent to score Fulham’s equaliser, for instance.
As a contest, however, it should have been settled long before then and Moyes might have to recognise that Rooney is not the player who should be sacrificed when the team actually need to be built around him.
Making him United’s captain would come with certain risks, not least because controversy has so often been his companion. In yesterday’s newspapers Moyes seemed to be hinting at such fears. But if United’s beleaguered manager wants a captain who leads by example, who plays with an appetite that we used to see here in Roy Keane, then Rooney is every inch the man.
Nemanja Vidic, wonderful servant though he has been, has revealed his intention to move on and his role in Fulham’s equaliser suggested a significant part of him has left already.
There is much Moyes needs to resolve and fast given the predicament his stuttering side are now in. But recognising the full extent of what Rooney offers would be a start. As well as playing him in the right position, he might want to consider handing him the captain’s armband, too. It could be just the catalyst Moyes needs. – Daily Mail