Man United: Rooney Doesn't Deserve Captaincy, But There's No One Else
In the end, the much hyped announcement of Manchester United’s new captain didn’t turn up a surprise of any description. Sure, a lack of realistic challengers certainly aided the club’s number 10, but Louis van Gaal’s decision to gift the armband to Wayne Rooney lost all of its shock factor once it became clear that the manager wanted to make him central to this season’s plans. It’s a decision that’ll stick in many a craw given the former Evertonian’s loyalty has been sketchy at best, but in reality, challengers to the mantle vacated by Nemanja Vidic this summer were thin on the ground.
Fact is that a number of fans have never and will never forgive Rooney for that famous transfer request submitted in October of 2010, with a brief but intense saga ending in a healthy pay rise but a rather sickening flirt with the club’s cross-town rivals. He became disillusioned with life at United once again last summer, having slipped behind Robin van Persie in the pecking order and fallen out with Sir Alex Ferguson, with the situation only resolved by a David Moyes-led charm offensive and another healthy contract extension this January past. His detractors can point to a lack of commitment to the club beyond his wages but there’s also an inescapable notion that Rooney’s best days are behind him. Last season’s goals and assists return (17 and 10 respectively) was hardly paltry but a frequently unprofessional approach to personal fitness has contributed to the belief that he isn’t the force he once was. Granted, those years of scoring 30+ goals came in seasons when United made him the fulcrum of their attack, which he arguably isn’t at present, but such notions are difficult to shrug off when they settle.
Of course, this is all just noise to the only person who’s opinion actually matters in this instance, and he’s already made his decision. It was always going to be interesting to see what Van Gaal would do with the armband; Van Persie and Rooney were quickly established as the frontrunners when former Bayern boss took over, but both have displayed disappointing behaviour in a difficult last twelve months for the club. What he appears to have done is shrug off any previous misdemeanours and simply plumped for the man he thinks will be best to lead this team. There was enough credence behind reports suggesting that the squad were unhappy with Rooney’s treatment to suggest that they had some truth behind them, so presumably, Van Gaal would not have bequeathed him with the armband if such feelings were still causing rifts behind the scenes. The manager stated himself that he has been impressed by Rooney’s “professionalism and his attitude to training and to my philosophy”, so, either he’s mugging off one of the most fearsome managers in footballing history with an elaborate show of effort, or he’s doing something right.
And, if it wasn’t going to be Rooney, who else would it have been? Candidates were sparse; Jonny Evans would have been a long shot, Darren Fletcher is still untested over the course of a full season after returning from illness and Michael Carrick, whilst a calming, controlled influence is never going to sling the team on his back when the chips are down. It’s not all bad news, of course. The promotion of Fletcher to vice-captain holds a certain amount of romanticism given the Scot’s recovery from debilitating illness, and few can be unhappy to see him not only enjoying his football this summer but performing to a decent standard.
Ultimately, Rooney will never win over all his detractors within Old Trafford; the damage is too deep, and the rewards potentially too scant to consider forgiveness, but in the interests of Manchester United, and Van Gaal’s attempts to get the club back on track after last season’s various calamities, there aren’t many better candidates for the armband than Rooney. Van Gaal's decision can be questioned, of course it can; he’s appointed a man with a track record that’s anything but spotless, but then again, the Dutchman was hired to made these decisions, regardless of their popularity with the club’s fanbase. People might not agree with all of them, but you'd wager the man making them isn’t too concerned.