Wayne Rooney Must Embrace New Role for Manchester United and Evolve His Game

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores to make it 4-0 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Norwich City at Old Trafford on March 2, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney may well be one of the most talented players in the world, depending who you ask, but he is no longer "the man" at Manchester United.

No, that distinction, at least for the moment, belongs to Robin van Persie. The star striker has scored 23 goals in 35 appearances for the Red Devils this season, and there's little doubt that he's the focus of the team's attack.

That has left Rooney's role for the squad in question at times. Some games, he plays in a wider role on the wing. Other games, he plays centrally as an attacking midfielder, dropping further back into the play and taking on a more defensive role (though traditionally, that seemed to be a role he liked playing).

We all know Rooney can score goals. Despite van Persie being the focus of the attack and Rooney missing games to injury, he still has 14 goals for the team in 28 appearances.

But can Rooney consistently set up goals for his teammates as well? Can he become a more creative table-setter in the attack, while still maintaining the threat to bomb a deep shot into the back of the net?

Will he accept additional defensive responsibilities and thrive, or will he continue to grow less pleased with his new role?

At times, it has seemed Rooney has truly embraced his new role. He does have 12 assists on the year, after all, and he was always at his best playing as a second striker, where he could go farther up the pitch and link up the play.

At other times, he hasn't seemed interested in playing a larger part in defense. He was subbed out against Real Madrid, and he won't even start the second leg against them on Tuesday afternoon, which is pretty shocking.

Might Sir Alex Ferguson's thought process be to play a more defensive lineup against the dangerous Los Blancos attack and bring on Rooney if he needs a late goal?

I'm not sure, but here's something else Rooney is going to have to embrace—sitting on the bench for a huge Champions League game. This might develop into something of an issue, as Oliver Kay of The Times noted on Twitter:

Could Rooney be on his way out after the season? Is Rooney actually expendable to the Red Devils, especially considering the huge figure he would fetch on the transfer market?

If he continues to embrace his new role while scoring goals, growing as a facilitator and aiding the team more defensively, I highly doubt United would ever want to see him leave. But if Rooney has tired of his new role and is weary of playing second fiddle to van Persie in the attack, this year could be his swan song for the Red Devils.

Perhaps he'll decide he wants to be "the man" elsewhere. 


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