Remember the name – Wayne Rooney!” Those the words of ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley on the day when the aforementioned Rooney netted the first league goal of an illustrious career with a stunning late winner for Everton against Arsenal. Fourteen years on and the England captain continues to dominate the news agenda, though for very different reasons.
Despite having broken Sir Bobby Charlton’s international scoring record and being within touching distance of repeating the feat for Manchester United, Rooney’s place in both teams continues to be questioned on an almost-weekly basis. His ever-increasing age coupled with diminishing ability means that he is no longer the talisman that he was half a decade ago.
That is not to say that he does not still have a role to play for both club and country – and his leadership skills have improved immeasurably since being handed the captaincy of both teams he represents. Ahead of Saturday’s much-anticipated derby with Manchester City, however, his suitability to play in a central position in the biggest games is the most pertinent question regarding his future.
Sticking to the vow that he made during his unveiling, Jose Mourinho has deployed Rooney as a No.10 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic for United’s first three matches of the campaign. His impressive midfield displays under Louis van Gaal towards the back end of last season suggested that a deeper role was to be the captain’s best but Mourinho’s belief that a striker never loses his scoring touch meant that he was not about to entertain such an idea.
Instead he has seen Rooney prove his worth with a goal in the victory over Bournemouth and assists in the wins against both Southampton and Hull City. The second of those at the KCOM Stadium harked back to the old Rooney as he showed Ahmed Elmohamady a clean set of heels before laying the ball on a plate for Marcus Rashford in the six-yard box. But moments such as those on Humberside have become few and far between where the 30-year-old is concerned.
There is no doubt that Rooney will be starting come lunchtime on Saturday at Old Trafford, with the main selection debates elsewhere in the forward line and behind him in central midfield. But with Pep Guardiola looking to play a compact defensive game and Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata all likely to be playing in the same area should the game lack the openness of a normal Premier League match, there is a danger that Rooney could find himself crowded out and without the time nor the space to pick the passes that could provide others with opportunities to find the net.