Even though Wayne Rooney was unable to get his name printed on the scoresheet during Manchester United’s thumping of Newcastle United last Sunday, the Englishman clearly made his presence felt throughout the game.
With Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck in the starting line-up, the former Merseyside youngster was forced to shift into his occasional No 10 role, serving as the catalyst for Sir Alex Ferguson’s makeshift midfield diamond.
Rooney did everything possible in his power to ensure that United returned home victorious from their daunting trip to the Tyneside.
The 26-year-old was the fulcrum and nexus of the Red Devils’ play, running the team’s midfield with sheer understated excellence, providing the vital chain of attacking ammunition to van Persie and Welbeck and most importantly, rendering defensive cover for the two full-backs.
His performance might have brought to light the fact that Manchester United desperately miss a Roy Keane-esque strong box-to-box midfielder in their ranks, but it also drew attention to the phenomenal versatility that the Old Trafford King possesses.
Even though Rooney is typically a No9, his versatile traits have allowed him to operate in a deeper role and consequently deliver massive psychological notification to the player himself.
When the 26-year-old is played as a striker, he has the onus of finding the back of the net or else facing immense criticism from football fans and pundits.
Whereas, while operating as an attacking playmaker, Rooney is relieved from his goal scoring duties and is allowed to thrive in his role as the talisman and field general of the Red Devils team while freeing the field for United’s new No 9, Robin van Persie to spearhead the team’s scoring in a lone striker role.
Hence, the newspaper headlines dominated by the mercurial van Persie and his livewire performances will barely concern the Englishman.
Rooney himself spoke about his enjoyment of playing in a deeper role for the team.
“Great win today. Really enjoying my new midfield role. Always involved in the game,” tweeted the former England Player of the Year after his galvanizing performance, against the Magpies, that could bring an end to United’s lengthy search for a midfield maestro.
However, what one could note from the game was that even though Rooney is as productive and efficient a No 9 as he is a No 10, the former Everton youngster started to fade away in the later stages of the game. He started to give away possession too easily, poorly attempted shots on goal and failed to track back and help out the defenders, before being subsequently subbed off by Sir Alex.
It then becomes essential to reflect that as great a role as Rooney is fulfilling for the team, it’s not certain whether the player could hold up to that sort of intensity and workload at the heart of the team’s play, week-in-week-out.
Nonetheless, as time progresses and age starts to catch up with the Merseyside-born youngster, Sir Alex Ferguson could decide to permanently utilize Rooney in midfield with relatively less pressure and work ethic.
The striker has already mellowed with age, losing some of his pace and aggression that characterized his youth, though, his vision and passing range have been enhanced and his tackling has become more robust.
In his new book, 'My Decade in the Premier League' , Rooney too admits the fact that he is bound to drop into the midfield role once his sharpness and prowess in front of the goal starts to decline.
"I did my bit by dropping into a central midfield role when the team got hit by injuries last season.
The manager thinks I can do a job there and, with the likes of Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher all missing games, he asked me to help out.
When I get stuck into the action as a central playmaker, I love it. I get more of the ball, I'm involved loads.
I even think about playing there permanently, but only later in my career."
It is is advisable that United take stock of Rooney’s weak areas and advantages to bring him into a role that is waiting for him on the field in the near future.