Wayne Rooney is being lined up as the next captain of Manchester United — with a reminder from manager David Moyes that whoever picks up the armband from Nemanja Vidic must convince him that their off-the-field behaviour will not bring the coveted role into disrepute.
With Vidic leaving United at the end of the season, Rooney is in prime position to take over as captain, providing he signs the five-year £300,000-a-week deal on offer to him.
Moyes has made it clear ahead of today’s Premier League game against bottom-of-the-table Fulham — one that United must win to keep their fading Champions League prospects alive — that he sees the United captaincy as having a huge ambassadorial element to it, as well as leading the other players during matches. Certainly, any repeat of scandals that have dogged Rooney in the past would count against him.
Talking about his search for a new skipper, Moyes said: ‘We want people to show leadership qualities, not just on the pitch but off the pitch. It is a big standing to be captain of Manchester United.
‘The person who takes over has to understand what it means for the club, the responsibility it carries, what is required of you as well. I think we have a lot of leaders in the dressing room and they will all get a chance to stake their claim.’
Asked specifically about Rooney’s prospects, the United manager added: ‘Like everyone else, I’ll give everyone that opportunity to stand up and show what they can do in the coming months.’
Rooney hinted yesterday that what he really wants is to stay at United and beat Sir Bobby Charlton’s club goalscoring record. And the prospect of him being given the United captaincy — one of the most prestigious roles in English football and previously held by Old Trafford greats Charlton, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane — has been discussed during Rooney’s contract talks.
Part of United’s pitch to Rooney has been that he would be guaranteed a place in the club’s history if he signs his new deal.
He has already had 10 years at the club and, were he to sign for another five, barring injury he would be certain to become the all-time top scorer at the club. He is currently fourth on that list with 208 goals – behind Jack Rowley, with 211, Denis Law with 237 and Charlton with 249.
The thought of handing Rooney the captaincy is an indication of how important both the club and manager David Moyes consider him to their future — though it is a remarkable turnaround from last summer, when the club’s former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said that Rooney had asked to leave.
Rooney has always denied that claim, although the acrimony it generated made a departure seem the most likely outcome.
Rooney as a captain would have seemed an unlikely outcome in his early career, when his private life was featuring on the front pages of newspapers and his discipline on the pitch was erratic — he has been sent off five times in his career.
But while he was fortunate to avoid red earlier this season when he kicked out at Jordon Mutch in the 2-2 draw at Cardiff, his disciplinary record has improved considerably in recent years.
The last red card he received was while playing for England against Montenegro in October 2011. He has twice been sent off for Manchester United, the last time occurring during a 2-0 defeat at Fulham in March 2009.
Darren Fletcher, who has been at United for 13 years and has recently returned following treatment for ulcerative colitis, is another serious candidate for the captaincy, while Phil Jones has an outside chance if Moyes decides he wants a skipper for the next 10 years.
Other candidates, including Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, are expected to follow Vidic out of the club at the end of the season.
More pressingly, Moyes is ready to take a selection gamble for today’s must-win game at Old Trafford with Wednesday’s trip to Arsenal in mind.
United have already lost at home against West Bromwich, Newcastle, Tottenham, Everton and Swansea this season but Moyes would prefer not to play all three of his star triumvirate — Robin van Persie, Rooney and Juan Mata — for a game against Fulham that they should win comfortably anyway.
The United manager admitted: ‘We’ve got two big games coming up, a big one on Wednesday, too, and have to take that into consideration. I must say I thought we played quite well last week [in a 2-1 defeat at Stoke] and I hope it continues.
‘Juan has played well in the games so far and has contributed well. It was the first time we had Robin and Wayne playing together since the start of the season and if we see more of that between now and the end of the season, it will hopefully lead to better performances and more points.’
Coming up against Ferguson’s former head coach, Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen, adds spice to the fixture and Moyes will be happy to take the three points rather than insist on a bagful of goals.
‘Like any manager, I’d take any win but if we win in style, great. Our form at Old Trafford hasn’t given us that. I hope it does between now and the end of the season. I would never be so presumptuous to think that would be the way.
‘We never looked like losing in our last home game against Cardiff [a 2-0 win] but I actually think we played better against Stoke in a match we lost than we did against Cardiff.
‘That may not be the way you see it but that is how I felt. We can improve a lot on both performances.’
United traditionally come strong in the last third of the season and they will need to this time, with a gap between them and top-four rivals Liverpool, Everton and Spurs.
‘We have to just win our games and hope other teams slip up. That’s what has to happen if we are to get into the position we want,’ said Moyes.
‘We’ve always felt capable of doing it and getting our players back and fit will put us in a position to do so.’
Meulensteen has claimed Moyes did not offer him a role after succeeding Ferguson last summer, a stance at odds with the United boss.
It appears now both men agreed to part ways and Moyes said: ‘I could turn it around and say Rene didn’t keep any of the backroom staff when he went to Fulham. Rene got the opportunity to stay but I think the decision he took was right.
‘He made the right decision and I believe I made the right decision as well. It was the right time for everybody. I knew it was going to be a big job and it has proved just that. I have the chance to build things up.’
Vidic is expected to return to United’s line-up today after serving a suspension for his dismissal against Chelsea a fortnight ago.
Adnan Januzaj is set to commit his international future to England after he turned down the chance to play for Belgium in this summer’s World Cup.
The 19-year-old Manchester United winger is the most wanted teenager in Europe, with England, Belgium, Albania, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo trying to persuade him to commit his international future to them.
Januzaj will not make an official announcement until next year but sources close to the player believe England is his favoured option.– Mail On Sunday