Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal casts doubt over Wayne Rooney's future as a strikerSport
Louis van Gaal has cast doubt over Wayne Rooney’s future as a striker at Manchester United after admitting to being unimpressed by his performances in an advanced role this season.
Rooney, handed the captaincy by Van Gaal before the start of the campaign, was deployed in an attacking-midfield position for the 5-3 defeat at Leicester City on Sunday, with the club’s recent signing Radamel Falcao partnering Robin van Persie up front.
However, with Van Gaal attempting to devise a formation that enables him to accommodate United’s array of attacking talents, also including Ángel di María and Juan Mata, Rooney has relinquished his grip on his favoured position.
When asked to explain his selection for the game at Leicester, Van Gaal admitted that Rooney’s contribution this season – he has scored twice in five games – had not been enough to warrant his ongoing selection as a striker.
“We have played well, but can improve, and I was not so satisfied with Rooney as a striker and Mata as midfielder,” Van Gaal said. “That is why I changed. Rooney can play in more positions, he’s a multi-functional player and I have tried him in a striker’s position. He has played well, but not spectacular. Falcao is a striker and I think he can do it better.”
Rooney, 28, who stands 31 short of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time United record of 249 goals, became disillusioned under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson due to a lack of opportunities in a central-attacking role following Van Persie’s arrival in August 2012.
However, despite his previous issues with playing in midfield or in a wide position, Rooney admits that his game has evolved to the point where he can now accept performing in different roles. “I’m not the player I was,” Rooney said. “But I feel I have progressed my game. I agree with the people who say my game has changed. I did too much running when I was younger and then didn’t have the energy to get myself into goalscoring positions in the box.
“I’m a cleverer player now and know when to run into the box and when not to, and as a result more chances have come my way and I’ve scored a lot more goals for the club.
“But I am happy to play out wide. I can do a job there and I can do a job up front. It depends on the situation of each game and what the manager wants me to do. I don’t think anyone can put a finger on my best position, but I am adaptable. I can go into midfield, drop out wide or play up-front. It just depends on where the manager wants me to play.”
Despite the uncertainty over his prospects as a forward, Rooney insists he can erase Charlton from the record books, both for United and England. Charlton’s all-time best haul of 49 England goals is looming into sight following Rooney’s 41st international goal against Norway this month.
“Being honest, I should get the records for United and England,” Rooney told Sky Sports. “Because of my age and the games I have left to play, I would be disappointed if I didn’t get them.”
United go into the game against West Ham United at Old Trafford on Saturday facing another defensive crisis, with Jonny Evans expected to join the injured Phil Jones and the suspended Tyler Blackett on the sidelines after sustaining an injury at Leicester.
The defeat by Leicester confirmed United’s start to the season as their worst in the Premier League era, prompting Mata to issue an apology for the performance on his Facebook page. “After a whole week waiting for the match I could not imagine a Sunday like this,” Mata wrote. “The way back from Leicester to Manchester on the bus seemed really long.
“I keep thinking about how we lost a game that was under control, but the thing is we were ahead, they equalised and when we tried to get advantage again we lost. It’s really tough to score three goals away and come back home with no points.
“On our way back to Manchester I was thinking about what had happened and felt so disappointed as all those that came with us to the stadium.
“Honestly, I feel very sorry that the weekend ended up for our fans in such a sad way.
“There is time during the week to analyse what happened and learn from our mistakes so as not to make them again.
“Now we play two consecutive games in Old Trafford that we want to win for our fans. We will put our best efforts to it, you can be sure of that.”