Is Wayne Rooney heading for the Man Utd glue factory?
Striker rejects claims that he is in decline and insists he can still play centre-forward despite goal drought
Memphis Depay is the toast of Old Trafford after his two-goal performance against Bruges on Tuesday, but what of the man whose crown he looks set to inherit, Wayne Rooney?
Louis van Gaal said before the start of the season that he was restoring the England man to his favoured centre-forward position for United, but so far Rooney has hardly looked the part.
"Rooney has yet to score in three appearances this season — and did not score in his final six United matches last term — but it was a sluggish performance away to Aston Villa on Friday that led to most criticism," notes Oliver Kay in The Times.
Some fear that Rooney may be in teminal decline. Writing in the Daily Mail on Monday, Martin Samuel called his performance against Villa "deeply troubling" and points out that as he approaches his 30th birthday, Rooney has played more than 660 games, 60 more than Ryan Giggs had done at the same age.
"He is near to the tipping point," argues Samuel. "He is a thoroughbred with the ethic of a dray horse and looks increasingly exhausted by it. Van Gaal must be careful from here. Going it alone for a whole season at United might leave Rooney ready for little more than the glue factory."
He was no less convinced after Rooney's showing against Bruges on Tuesday, pointing out in the Mail that Rooney twice "took throw-ins 40 yards from goal – one of them was a foul throw, too – so when the attacking move started he was way off to the periphery. I don't know if this means he has forgotten how to be the No 9, but I cannot imagine that Van Gaal was too happy with it."
Rooney "raised a chuckle" at the hysterical reception for Depay outside Old Trafford after the Champions League game, says Oliver Kay of the Times.
"Perhaps it reminded Rooney of his debut in the competition, when he scored a hat-trick for United against Fenerbahce in September 2004," he says. "Life was much simpler for Rooney then... the older he gets, the harsher the spotlight becomes."
And the 29-year-old striker appears to realise as much, complaining to reporters on Tuesday: "I've had one bad game this season and everyone's all over it".
He accepts that he was below par at Villa but remains confident he can repay the trust of Van Gaal. "I'm an honest guy, I know when I haven't played well and against Aston Villa I was below my standards and I know that... My mind's clear. I know how to play the role. It's just a case of getting the chances and taking them, which I'm hopeful I'm going to do soon."