Wayne Rooney looked like a reluctant guest at Tottenham's White Hart Lane party - his days are numbered
A day to remember at the old White Hart Lane, for everyone except some of the main participants: Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.
They really did look like reluctant guests at a party they never wanted to attend. United of course have bigger concerns now than performing for someone else’s big show, and Mourinho made that perfectly clear by putting out what was essentially a second team, with most of these players unlikely to play in the Europa League final against Ajax next week.
That actually made them the perfect guests from Spurs’ perspective, because they so meekly allowed Mauricio Pochettino’s to make the White Hart Lane even more of a stage to exhibit their talents, and also give the stadium the farewell win they so desired. The reality was United were battered, even if the narrow final score said otherwise.
If Mourinho was making it clear to everyone that this game was meaningless to him, though, it still had meaning for some of the players involved - a few pointers for the future.
That future does not look all that promising for Wayne Rooney.
Much was made in midweek of his comments about potentially staying at United, but it’s difficult to see how that could happen, given how he seemed to find a lot of basic tasks quite difficult here.
The very fact Mourinho has suddenly restored him to the starting XI for games the manager so evidently cares little about says enough, and Rooney’s contribution for the goal here - the first United have scored away to another top-six side this season - probably didn’t offer enough of an argument to keep him.
It was pretty much the only thing he did with force or conviction, beyond three fouls that, on another day, might have seen him sent off for two bookings. The goal at least showed that he hasn’t lost his goal-scoring instinct. Nonetheless, the vigour which marked his early days was nowhere to be seen. This is a player who was once and for a long time one of the most physically intimidating forces in world football, but was here watching player by player breeze past him all as he missed challenge after challenge.
It was all too conspicuous that Rooney also lost his man and failed to head clear the deliveries which handed Spurs both their goals.
The contrast with the life and focus in Marcus Rashford’s game was all too clear when he was introduced as a sub, although the recent argument over whether the younger player is better at 19 than Rooney was should be quickly dismissed. Rooney was a special talent, performing like he was a player 27 years of age at that point, and someone who regularly carried and lived up to huge responsibility.
That makes it all the more of a shame that his game now makes it so hard to remember this. What is not so striking is that he has become so easy to play against.
Whether United should be this easy to play against in a game like this is another question. None of it will matter if they do go and lift the Europa League, but should there be a duty to offer a bit more in such games? Should they be allowing the league season to drift away like this? Should they not show a bit more pride?
Eric Bailly didn’t allow the game to drift and, suspended for the Europa League final, he was one of their fiercest performers here. Axel Tuanzebe also continued to show he does have a future, as Mourinho opted to use him in a man-marking role the manager has shown an increasing penchant for. This time it was Christian Eriksen given special attention, in the same way that Ander Herrera was charged with dealing with Eden Hazard against Chelsea and Matteo Darmian was with Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.
Beyond that, though, there was little of note here for United.
They were merely a famous name that gave Spurs the most fitting of wins for the last game at this intimate, old stadium.
Independent News Service