x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Not Wayne Rooney's world at Manchester United anymore

The arrival of Robin van Persie, questions about his form and fitness and his manager's concern mean the strike is no longer 'undroppable', writes Andy Mitten .

Wayne Rooney will be out for another two months out with a bad cut to his leg. Patrik Stollarz / AFP
Wayne Rooney will be out for another two months out with a bad cut to his leg. Patrik Stollarz / AFP

Despite the new signings at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney's held off all comers to remain the most popular shirt purchased in the club's Megastore.

Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa are second and third, but Rooney's popularity at Old Trafford reflects his position as the main man at the club since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2009.

If there was a criticism of Rooney last season, it was that he could not be dropped. It did not matter if United's leading scorer went a month without finding the net, his place in the side was all but guaranteed by a manager needing his best player.

When Rooney was dropped for disciplinary reasons for a game against bottom-of-the-table Blackburn Rovers, Ferguson's league-leading side lost.

United were not a one-man side, but Rooney needed more competition and that arrived with Van Persie. Rooney welcomed the signing of such a talented foil, but he did not expect to be dropped for Van Persie in only the second game of the season.

That followed Rooney's return to his old club Everton, where he looked overweight and ineffective. A seemingly unfit Rooney flopped and United lost.

As Rooney has matured, so he has needed to work harder to stay in shape. He does not always convince. Rooney does not have the same exacting demands of himself as Ronaldo, nor the same limitless levels of self-confidence.

Ronaldo has become a better player each season, Rooney hasn't. And while Ronaldo's body is an ongoing vanity project, Rooney has smoked and presumably indulged his love of junk food in the off season.

Ferguson and his staff keep a closer eye on him than any other player because Rooney needs to be in top condition to perform. And he has to work hard to be in top condition.

Ferguson was frustrated with Rooney's shape after the close season and showed it by dropping him last week. When Rooney did come on the pitch, he was injured with a deep gash to the leg which will keep him out for one month.

The absence may do him good. He's read the criticisms, including those from his own fans, read the rumours that he may be allowed to leave. He reacted angrily saying that he was "'hear' (sic) to stay".

If he does not come back leaner and perform to his potential, it may not be his choice.


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