By completing an audacious loan move for Monaco forward Radamel Falcao, Louis van Gaal may just have signalled the beginning of the end for Wayne Rooney -- as a Manchester United striker.
Having handed Rooney the United captaincy less than a month ago, Van Gaal clearly regards the 28-year-old as a central part of his plans at Old Trafford.
But as his performance against Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday highlighted, the days of Rooney in United’s front-line appear to be drawing to a conclusion and the capture of Falcao can be the catalyst for a crucial change in the England captain’s role for United.
The first question to be raised by the signing of the Colombian forward is simply, ‘how will he fit in?’
United now possess an array of attacking riches - the picture is not quite so rosy at the back - and Van Gaal must somehow devise a system that can accommodate Falcao, Rooney, Robin van Persie and £59.7m British record signing Angel di Maria.
As reported on this site last week, Juan Mata faces an uncertain future at United as a result of the changing face of Van Gaal’s squad and, in his current position, Rooney would also be wary of thinking that the team will revolve around him as a centre-forward.
But Rooney, who already wears the number 10 on his back at United, could transform his career if he was to be moved back into the role defined as the number ten position.
On the face of it, the Rooney-Van Persie strike partnership should be United’s greatest strength. But at Burnley, it appeared to be just another problem waiting to be solved by Louis van Gaal.
With both forwards regarded as two of the world’s leading strikers, United would expect a return of 50 goals a season from the pair, but as they begin their third season together at Old Trafford, question marks still hang over Rooney and Van Persie as a successful double act.
At Turf Moor, playing in a 3-1-4-2 formation, the two forwards barely linked together in the final third and the interplay was virtually non-existent.
Van Persie, having missed much of pre-season due to an extended post-World Cup break, is yet to return to full fitness and may still require a knee operation, but Rooney has enjoyed an uninterrupted summer for the first time in years and still looks off the pace.
Van Gaal has claimed that his controversial three-man defence is partly being used because it allows him to accommodate two forwards. But as Rooney proved with his raking pass to Van Persie for the Dutch forward’s famous volleyed goal against Aston Villa which clinched the 2012-13 title, a bit of distance between the two forwards is no bad thing.
Currently, they are making the same runs and occupying each others’ space and the end result is confusion. If Van Gaal tinkered with the system and played Van Persie alongside Falcao, with Rooney behind him in a 4-3-1-2 formation, the problem could be solved.
Rooney no longer possesses the burst of pace which marked him out as a unique talent as a teenager, but he has the vision required to play as a number 10.
With Di Maria on the left of a midfield three, the attacking options available to Van Gaal would be formidable if Rooney could master the number 10 role.
If not, the signing of Falcao will just exacerbate United’s problems because it is difficult to envisage a system that can successfully incorporate Falcao, Rooney and Van Persie in a forward line.
Neither Falcao nor Van Persie possess the versatility that Rooney offers. He may not enjoy it, but Rooney has shown on many occasions his ability to perform on wide left or right and also in a midfield role.
Playing in midfield usually results in Rooney dropping to deep, where he cannot influence the game, but the role between the midfield and forward lines would ensure he retained the ability to affect games in the final third.
Playing in that position could extend Rooney’s career well into his thirties and perhaps that is part of Van Gaal’s thinking with the signing of Falcao.
How Manchester United could line up with Falcao
Rafael - Jones - Rojo - Shaw
Herrera - Blind - Di Maria
Van Persie - Falcao
LOUIS VAN GAAL may have stumbled on something by suggesting that the teething troubles experienced by his Manchester United players in attempting to crack the code of his new system at Old Trafford are comparable to his own battle to "learn how to drive on the other side of the road here".
The loan deal that brings Radamel Falcao to Manchester United will see Louis van Gaal’s Premier League spending surpass the £140m mark – making him sixth in the list of the highest transfer fees spent by any manager in the English top flight.
Louis van Gaal is planning to secure a £25million January deal to lure the Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman to Manchester United after turning his attentions to accelerating the Old Trafford clear-out on the final day of the transfer window.