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Wednesday 21 August 2019

Comment: Is it time to drop 'awful' Wayne Rooney?

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Marcos Rojo (right) after the final whistle against PSV
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Marcos Rojo (right) after the final whistle against PSV

Alistair Tweedale

Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane has hit out at Wayne Rooney claiming he looks "awful" and needs to "step up to the plate".

Keane watched on as United put in another abject display in a goalless draw with PSV on Wednesday – their fifth of the season and a result that leaves their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread. Only a win at Wolfsburg in their final group match will see them through to the knockout stages.

Rooney is one of United’s most experienced players and Keane said, “As captain there’s more responsibility and I think he’s got to do a lot more”. Rooney, Louis van Gaal’s first choice centre-forward, has only three goals in 15 Premier League and European appearances this season and Keane did not hold back in his criticism working as a pundit on ITV.

“Mentally he doesn’t look really sharp; physically he doesn’t look in great shape. He needs to have a look at himself. He doesn't look sharp, he looks awful.”

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Few could argue that Rooney has been a shadow of his former self this season, and United have arguably looked better without him. They have scored three goals in the last six matches in which Rooney has featured, while in the last two matches he has missed, United have scored five goals.

This begs the question, is it time to drop Wayne Rooney?

It would not be fair to call time on his career just yet; he is only 30 years old and could surely rediscover his goal-scoring touch. But for now, his laboured playing style is detrimental to his side’s chances.

United play a possession-based game under Louis van Gaal, with more of the ball than any other Premier League team (59.4 per cent on average). They have, however, had only 96 shots – the fifth fewest ahead only of Sunderland, West Brom, Newcastle and Aston Villa. The 76.6 passes per shot that they average make United the least incisive team in the top flight.

They need a forward capable of a quick burst of pace, able to dart into the box or run beyond the defence when a rare opportunity to counter is thrown up. Rooney, now 30 years of age, seems incapable of doing so.

He has managed only nine shots on target in 11 Premier League appearances and only three more in his four Champions League games. Three goals from 12 shots on target shows that Rooney can still be clinical in front of goal; the problem is that he just isn’t getting into shooting positions as much as he once did.

As captain of both club and country, Rooney has a kind of untouchable status that means neither of his managers really considers dropping him – or at least so they say in public.

They may well be right to persist in the hope that he does eventually find form, but Rooney’s performances – and those of his team without him – suggest that leaving him out should be more of a consideration than Van Gaal and Roy Hodgson make out.


Manchester United must win in Wolfsburg to guarantee progress, with PSV in the hunt provided they beat CSKA Moscow. If United draw or lose to Wolfsburg and PSV win, then Louis van Gaal's team will be out of the Champions League.

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