With Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Luis Nani scoring 19, 7 & 7 Barclays Premier League goals respectively, many of the United faithful are beginning to worry about the diminishing goal return of last season's top scorer, Wayne Rooney. With both Nemanja Vidic and Tom Cleverley ahead of him in the League scoring charts, what started as a trivial anomaly has become a full blown goal drought. Although his contributions to the team have not be negligible, his lack of goals has been a problem, both for his personal confidence and for the teams fluidity. But the problem is not solely of his creation.
Having suffered ankle ligament damage in last season's Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich, Rooney has had a torrid time since, rushing back too soon to try and win a historic fourth consecutive league title. His summer was blighted by newspaper headlines, sore feet and Fabio Capello's mind numbing tactics, and returned to Carrington a washed out, shadow of his former self. His poor form, and fading shooting ability culminated in this:
Since the start of 2011, Sir Alex has begun to play Wayne out of position in an attempt to make best use of his other talents, allowing Wayne the time and space to rediscover the sharpness and confidence to find the goal scoring touch. Its also allowed Sir Alex to use a more reliable player on the left flank, with Giggs now a bit-part player, Nani flourishing on the right hand side in Valencia's absence, Wayne is a safer option than Obertan or Bebe, both offensively and defensively. This tactic, however logical from the teams point of view, whereby it serves the greater good, is short termist and is not helpful in the long run. Berbatov, Nani and Hernandez may come close to scoring 60 league goals between them this season, but to progress in the Champions League, we will without doubt need all 4 of our strikers (Owen) fit, fresh and firing on all cylinders.
Some pessimistic fans believe that Rooney, who started playing professionally at 16, may even be burned out at 24, and that the world has seen the best of him last season. I however, have always believed that Wayne belonged in the heat of battle, attacking from a deeper central midfield position, in the position vacated by Scholes circa 2005.
Wayne's range of passing, ball retention abilities, vision and shooting would make him an ideal candidate to fill Scholes' role long term and that salvation may lie in taking up the number 8 shirt again!