With Manchester United set to bid farewell to Nemanja Vidić at the end of the season, not only will a big void be left to fill at centre back at the Theatre of Dreams, but also there will be a big void to fill regarding the captaincy. And for the first time in a long time at Old Trafford, the list of natural leaders and obvious replacements in the squad runs thin.
Since the announcement of Vidić’s departure, talk of who is to be Manchester United’s next skipper has intensified and it appears that United manager David Moyes has targeted Wayne Rooney as Vidić’s successor.
This is the biggest indication yet that David Moyes wants to build his new team around Rooney, and handing him the armband would be the perfect catalyst in order to do so in his eyes. But there’s a problem.
In January, as we’re all aware, United broke their club transfer record on Juan Mata, a man who plays his best football in the number 10 role behind the striker. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, this is where Wayne Rooney plays, and so far in his United career, Mata is yet to start a game at number 10. Instead the former Chelsea man has found himself playing on the wing, which was part of the reason why he decided to leave Stamford Bridge in the first place.
As great a player as Juan Mata is, his natural position is not on the wing. In short, he’s being wasted out wide. If Man United want to get the best out of their record signing, they need to play him in his best position. The only problem being that Rooney stands in his way.
Since Man United switched from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation back at the start of last season, Rooney has found himself playing a deeper role than before. With his tendencies to track back, his love of the physical side of the game and his habit of starting moves from deep, playing this role has suited him extremely well. For years the England man was part of a front-two striker partnership, but since the arrival of Robin van Persie in 2012, he’s been playing in ‘the hole’, as the lone striker role is not really his forté.
Shinji Kagawa arrived in the same window as van Persie but found little playing time in his natural position just behind the striker because Wayne Rooney was preferred to him in that role, and the former Dortmund man spent the next 12 months rusting out on the wing, out of position and now finds himself rotting on the bench.
The same fate now faces Juan Mata. He plays his best football in the hole but is unlikely to get much game time there because of Rooney. In a perfect world United would find a way to fit both into their system, but there simply isn’t a way to play both players without one of them being out of position. Therefore, United have to choose between the two.
Given that Mata is their record signing and is a lot younger than Rooney, the logical decision for Moyes now would be to build his team around his new star Spaniard. Instead, it looks like he wants Rooney as his figurehead and main man, and given that they’ve just splashed £37million on Mata, that seems like the wrong decision, or at least, that money seems like a massive waste. If they wanted a winger, they should’ve bought a natural winger!
Perhaps a lot of what drove United to sign Mata was indeed desperation, but still, they must now recognise that he and Rooney play best in the same position, so they can only move forward with one of them.
Moyes has made his bed and must now lie in it. He’s spent his budget on Mata and must now build the team around him. Rooney has been and still is a phenomenal player for United, but all good things must come to an end at some point. Rooney still has plenty of market value, especially with José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti sniffing around, and there won’t be many further opportunities for United to sell Rooney for a decent price considering his age.
It’s very early days but Mata is yet to really contribute much to United. He’s been involved in a couple of goals in the space of a month but his influence on games is no where near the level it was for Chelsea last season. This could be down to United’s poor form, and he may just need time to settle, but you do tend to wonder how much more influential the Spaniard could be if he’s played in the right position.
If Moyes makes Rooney his new captain he’ll be making a mistake. He’ll be wasting an incredible player in Mata for the sake of only a couple more years of Rooney at the top of his game. United have broken the bank to bring in Mata and need to have him as the hub of the side, and the only way to do that is to say goodbye to their current number 10 and clear the path for their new one.