Manchester United begin their new season on Saturday at home to Swansea in the lunch time kick-off in front of an Old Trafford faithful with high expectations. It will be new manager Louis van Gaal’s first competitive game in charge and only his second game at the Theatre of Dreams after Tuesday’s last-ditch 2-1 victory over Spanish side Valencia.
Football clubs regularly go through cycles – new managers, players, leagues, etc – but Manchester United has often been a rare anomaly. The Red Devils have played at Old Trafford since the early 20th century, they have featured in England’s top flight every season since the late 1930s, bar one unlikely blip in the mid-70s and up until last summer, had the same man sat in the dug-out week-on-week for 26 years.
David Moyes had the unfortunate task of following the greatest manager of all-time, Sir Alex Ferguson, and relied on one man in particular as an act of habit.
Since walking in the door, latest boss Louis van Gaal has been eyeing up who he would place his faith in to lead arguably the world’s biggest club for the upcoming campaign too. After a long-winded pre-season tour of USA, he has finally chosen his captain; Wayne Rooney.
Many fans have been torn in their opinion of Rooney’s captaincy appointment and some have expressed their unequivocal discontent at the decision. I, for one, find it staggering and think he will make an excellent captain for Manchester United, and potentially England soon as well.
For starters, Manchester United already lack a huge amount of experience in their squad now. The losses of mainstays Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra could be injurious, and Ryan Giggs' move from the playing staff to Van Gaal’s assistant means all of the previous captains in the team have moved on to pastures new. So, Van Gaal was always going to be looking for an experienced head to skipper his side.
Jonny Evans had been mooted after his consistent displays in previous seasons propelled him to becoming a regular starter, while Van Gaal’s compatriot and captain for the Dutch national side he managed at the World Cup was Robin van Persie, a key player for United.
However, Van Persie was still on holiday during the pre-season tour so Rooney had the chance to show Van Gaal exactly what an officious leader he could be. During a training session, Rooney and Van Gaal were captured already showing a tight bond, hugging after a set-piece drill was executed to perfection.
Rooney led United a few times last season under Moyes and has led the side in the past under Ferguson too. Van Gaal gave him the opportunity to do so again in games against Real Madrid and Liverpool across the pond, while leading out the team against Valencia on Tuesday.
In terms of genuine experience, Rooney has been at United since 2003, longer than any other current first-team member. He has represented the Red Devils 442 times in all competitions, scoring 216 goals – one of four members to score over 200, alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Jack Rowley, which firmly puts him in the clubs elite.
Considering he only signed a new contract back in February, tying him to the club until 2019, and he only turns 29 in October, Rooney still has plenty of years ahead of him. In fact, you could argue that he is currently in his peak golden years, particularly after he was one of the only stand-out players during Moyes' fateful reign, alongside David De Gea.
Having won 12 titles at the club since his £25.6million move from Everton in 2003, including 5 Premier League winners’ medals and the 2008 UEFA Champions League, Rooney has a very respectable trophy cabinet to earn him respect among his colleagues and younger players in the United squad.
On the field he is a tireless worker who always gives 100%. He hates losing and his overriding passion, thirst and appetite will serve him well in his new role.
Off the field many fans point to the fact that he’s held the club to ransom twice to earn new lucrative contracts and the transfer requests he’s handed in to force through potential moves to Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively in the past.
Those same fans seem to forget that Denis Law handed in a transfer request to force through a move once, before scoring the goal that relegated Manchester United in 1973. The iconic George Best also walked out on the club that gave him so much too and now both of them have a bronze statue outside Old Trafford to denote their legendary statuses.
His previous accusations of infidelity are further stains on his career but that’s hardly something to hold against him only. John Terry has been accused of similar perfidies, as well as racism, while United’s own Ryan Giggs is in the same boat. Steven Gerrard handed in a transfer request at Liverpool back in 2004 to try to force through a move to Chelsea, yet none of these blips were strong enough to affect these players’ abilities to captain their respective sides. All of them were fantastic captains as Rooney will be no different.
He will retire as a legend, too. Wayne will be able to look back on his career with fondness as he will undoubtedly finish as the Manchester United record goal scorer and appearance holder, and almost definitely both for England.
For now, is he the right choice to carry Manchester United back to the glory days? Without a doubt.
Van Gaal can see that and it won’t be long before Roy Hodgson does too.
By Neil Vincent - Manchester United/Bristol Rovers fan - @