Sunday 18 February 2018

Stephen Hunt: Jose Mourinho needs to play Wayne Rooney to maximise his sell-on value

Wayne Rooney and Jose Mourinho Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Wayne Rooney and Jose Mourinho Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

If I was manager of Manchester United, I would do what Jose Mourinho is doing now and continue to pick Wayne Rooney - but only because I would be looking to sell him. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if that's the plan.

I think it's clear to anyone that Rooney isn't the player he was, but that doesn't mean there isn't a value to playing him. For one, it means his actual value in the market isn't affected. Two, he can still come up with moments like the pass for Marcus Rashford's goal against Hull City. There is still a certain amount of value on the pitch. If you were to pick United's best team, Rooney probably wouldn't be in it. He doesn't really fit Mourinho's best system, and that system would likely involve a different role for Paul Pogba, with Rashford obviously in it. But Mourinho also knows United can still do enough with the team as it is. They can still win their fair share of games on experience.

So all of this amounts to a bit of politics from Mourinho.

As I've said here before, politics makes up a lot of football. For players and managers, it's about keeping certain people happy and saying the right things.

On the pitch, Rooney isn't able to do some of the things he used to. He's lost his explosiveness. He can still run around and look effective but he hasn't got that extra burst he used to have. I wasn't at his level as a player, of course, but I went through a similar process. Towards the end, I could still get around, but I couldn't go past people in the same way. You just lose it. It's hard to pin-point what it is, whether it's down to injuries or age, but it just goes.

That leads to a lot of questions over whether Rooney is too much of a big dog in the dressing room, whether he's too big to drop.

I don't think that's the case at all, though. It's not about that. I've seen the other side of that - and we'll get to that.

Rooney, however, still does the right things in other ways and that's one big positive with him. It's not like he's slouching around the place. He's there because he's a winner. For all the criticism of his captain, Mourinho knows he hasn't got a bad player in Rooney. He trusts Rooney in a way that he doesn't trust Juan Mata. That's obvious.

That might not keep some of the fans happy, but that's not Mourinho's job. His job is to win games, to get results, and Rooney still has the personality for that.

Jimmy Bullard at Hull City was the opposite. His contract certainly reflected that he was the big dog at the club. Just because you're the top earner, though, doesn't mean you're the best player. That was me at the time!

Players can get carried away with that kind of thing, and the pay structure. Jimmy had arrived from Fulham with a big reputation and on the biggest wage, thinking he was the business, but he didn't live up to it. His quality was never in doubt and you'd be willing to carry him because of his potential to do something, but he didn't do enough to compensate. His injuries didn't help, but we openly questioned his desire.

I remember pulling him aside once, telling him that we needed him in the team and that he had to do more to get fitter. He told me where to go. He never did enough and, after one particular game, Nick Barmby called him out on that in a forthright way that made the papers.

I played against a player in that situation with Ireland once, when it was so clear that Dimitar Berbatov was bigger than Bulgaria. You could just feel what a presence he was on the pitch. It was all about him, and all the play went through him. It also meant that, if you cut him off or figured out how to keep him quiet, you knew you could get something.

Early in my career, I actually saw the two sides of how to be a big name in a team, with two players who came from the European champions. I was a young player at Crystal Palace when Attilio Lombardo and Michele Padovano came from Juventus. Lombardo was brilliant. He led by example and that was when I first realised what it is to be a good professional. You couldn't but learn from him. He was there to do his best.

It didn't feel like that with Padovano, and I should know because I cleaned his boots. He was a player past his best, and basically just using his good name to get that last move. A good name he didn't live up to.

Steve Coppell was manager of Palace at that time and he handled such difficult situations superbly - in a very simple but successful way. He wouldn't change a winning team, that was his rule, and it meant he was fair. It was all about the team.

Some places were very different, and there was a lot of politics to selections. You knew with some young players, who were worth a few quid to the club, even if they were going through a bad patch they would be put into the team. They weren't going to be dropped, and there's also the reality that it is "politically correct" to play young players.

That wasn't always good for them either, but football clubs have to operate like that. After all, it's not just about the football, they are businesses too.

It's not like that yet with Rooney, but I'd be thinking from a business perspective if I was the manager.

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