OPINION: Mourinho has to make the call – time for Rooney to be put out to pasture

There seems to be a never-ending debate around Manchester United these days – what is the best position for Wayne Rooney?

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Image: John Peters/ Man Utd via Getty Images

Some say he’s best as an out-and-out striker, others insist he’s a number 10 while increasingly in recent months he’s been deployed as a midfielder.

Isn’t it time to simply face the fact that he no longer has a best position? Rooney doesn’t merit a place in Manchester United’s starting eleven any more.

The reasons for that were laid bare in the game against Watford on Sunday. Rooney’s performance was little short of appalling. Time after time, while playing mainly in a number 10 position, Rooney lost the ball, misplaced crosses and passes and was outmuscled and outthought every time he was involved in the game.

And it’s nothing new. Rooney has been a passenger for Manchester United for a few years now and has embodied, perhaps even exacerbated, the decline of the club since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The livewire that burst on to the scene as a teenager and took the world by storm is a distant memory. Now into his 30’s, you perhaps can’t expect much else but the drop off is alarming.

You look back to the dynamic combination Rooney had with Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford and can’t help reflect on how different their career paths have been since they parted ways in 2009. Ronaldo has gone from strength to strength, scoring goals for fun and claiming accolades as the best player in the world.

Rooney, in contrast, has declined horrendously. He can no longer be considered as one of the best players in the Premier League, let alone the world. What he brings to the side now is a question of some debate with many, myself included, believing that United would be significantly improved if he were removed from the team.

There is no pace about Rooney. He’s sluggish, ponderous and brings the game to a standstill when United are crying out for some movement. And his quality on the ball does little to make up for his lack of fitness and agility. Wasteful in possession, incapable of creating openings for his teammates, Rooney has become a never-ending problem now for three Manchester United managers since Ferguson’s retirement.

At the end of the Scot’s tenure, it looked likely Rooney would leave Old Trafford. Had Ferguson stayed, he surely would have been shipped out. But when David Moyes arrived, he felt he needed Rooney, and United bent over backwards to keep him. Rooney became almost irreplaceable under the weak Moyes and has stayed in that position of strength ever since.

Louis van Gaal made him captain, and Rooney was an automatic pick. But his performances simply don’t justify his selection. They haven’t in truth since the 2010 season. Injuries have played their part, as have a consistent lack of fitness throughout his career. He’s 30, but in reality he shows the mobility and fitness of a player at least two or three years older.

Jose Mourinho has built a reputation as a manager who makes his own decisions and won’t pander to the ego of big players. Well the time has come to justify that reputation. For the good of the club, Rooney has to be sidelined.

To be playing Paul Pogba out of position, to accommodate Rooney, is unacceptable. As is picking the horrendously out-of-form captain ahead of the much more able Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Jesse Lingard.

Rooney will pass Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s all-time leading goalscorer and has been a fine servant to the club. But he can’t retain his place off the back of past glories.

He is no longer a player fit to represent Manchester United as a regular starter, and should be moved out of the side with immediate effect. His inclusion only damages United’s performances.

His best days are long behind him, and the 30-year-old Rooney, in 2016, has nothing to offer that United need.

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