Introducing Manchester United’s New Midfield Maestro

By on November 11, 2011

During a tumultuous summer for Manchester United, where Sir Alex Ferguson once again seamlessly masterminded the transformation of a team of experienced, seasoned campaigners, into a fresh, vibrant young team – it was widely thought he had missed one key ingredient.

The need to replace a player of the calibre of the Paul Scholes was apparent. A number of worthy candidates were proposed, the likes of Luka Modric, Samir Nasri and in particular, Wesley Sneijder – However, it would turn out no replacement would come at all.

Modric became the subject of heavy interest from Chelsea; whose £40 million transfer deadline day bid for the playmaker was not enough to prise him from Tottenham. Nasri, after snubbing interest from United, chose a whopping pay rise to join Manchester City in a £23 million deal, and Sneijder, after a great deal of speculation in the press, would remain with the Nerazzurri for another season.

Ferguson however, remained undeterred. Instead, he elected to stand by his faith in his squad, and attempt to find an answer within the club, dismissing any speculation along the way. “Absolute nonsense,” Ferguson said of the speculation, surrounding Sneijder in particular at the time. “I have never discussed him. There is nothing new.”

Ferguson paid tribute to Scholes amid the speculation, adding: “I don’t think we will find another Paul Scholes. But hopefully we can replace him. Maybe we will find a different type of player. It (centre midfield) is an area we have to find a solution for.”

So what is the solution – does it exist within the realms of Old Trafford? Much has been made of the burgeoning talents of the emerging central midfielder, Tom Cleverley. Ferguson said of the player: “Physically he is not the strongest but he is wiry and has a great idea of the game.”

Certainly, Cleverley has made a big impression in his starting appearances for United’s first team. He was at the heart of United’s flying start to the 2011/2012 campaign, coming on in the Community Shield and proving instrumental to United’s victorious comeback against rivals Manchester City, as well as providing an assist for Nani’s equalising goal.

Cleverley went on to provide another assist in the Red Devils’ 3-0 victory over Tottenham, and was outstanding once again in the 8-2 demolition job of Arsenal. However, ligament damage sustained during United’s 5-0 away win at the Reebok stunted his progress, and United have struggled for creativity since, not scoring over three goals in one game since that fixture, and dropping points in the process.

Cleverley is an obvious candidate as a long-term replacement for Scholes, but have United found another midfield ace in the form of their talisman, Wayne Rooney?

Last Wednesday night, Rooney, due to United’s current lack of options in midfield, was deployed in a central midfield role, and, to the surprise of many, shone in a man-of-the-match display in a 2-0 Champions League win over Romanian outfit Otelul Galati. Ferguson said:

“He was our best player. He showed great awareness of that role.

“It was an option for us and a good option because he has all the qualities you need to be a central midfield player.

“The first thing you have to say about him is that he receives the ball very well. He is aided by the fact he plays in a forward role, when receiving the ball is more of an issue, but that was an advantage for him.”

However, Ferguson was quick to dispel any thoughts of Rooney occupying the role permanently:

“When you’ve got a player who I think has scored 10 goals so far, you want him to be in positions where he will get even more goals and I think that position is in his normal place”

“It’s conditional in the sense of what midfield players I have available,” Ferguson added. “We decided why not play Wayne there because he’s got the appetite for it; he’s got the energy levels for it.

“I’m not putting any marker down for that position really because it depends what is available elsewhere.”

And wisely so. Perhaps unintentionally, United have stumbled upon a terrific option to retain Rooney in a midfield role, while the likes of Cleverley, Ashley Young, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are recovering from injury and players such as Anderson are struggling for fluency in the middle of the park.

Anderson, unlike Rooney, came up desperately short that Wednesday night. With less than 55% of his forward passes finding a United player, he lacked the attacking impetus needed, more so than ever now with Scholes gone and a number of central midfielders out of action.

This is certainly not a case for Rooney slotting into centre midfield permanently, as his superior capabilities lie in an attacker’s role – as his 9 league goals in as many games suggest.

However, he has definitely made a case for his inclusion in midfield on a short-term basis, or as a future option should this situation arise again in United’s midfield, or even when he is older and no longer possesses that burst of pace needed at the top-level, as Ryan Giggs has done so admirably for years now.

His superb range of passing and unerring vision, an ever-present feature of his game, was further highlighted last Wednesday, with a stupendous ball into the path of Dimitar Berbatov leading to United’s first goal.

Over the game, Rooney’s long passing success read 78%, with his passing over a shorter distance read a highly impressive 91%, a statistic that would compete with the likes of Barcelona’s world-renowned midfield duo, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Rooney certainly believes he can play there, as long as it satisfies his manager. Stating after the game:

“I feel I’m a good enough footballer to play anywhere on the park. That’s not being big-headed. I feel I am capable of doing that. If the manager wants me to play there, I have no problem in doing that.”

Rooney followed up the MOM Champions League display by retaining his place in midfield for Saturday’s 1-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford. While Rooney wasn’t as effective as he was against Galati, he still showed he’s more than capable of doing a job in there. But a permanent position….perhaps not.

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10 Comments

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  4. timbo

    November 12, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Garbage. The percentages for Rooney are extremely misleading, especially given the quality of the opposition. Most of his passing is either lateral or backwards, usually under mild pressure from advancing defenders, who he can’t beat one-on-one to save his life because he doesn’t possess the necessary skills to do so. The other reason he needs to pass the ball away constantly is his inability to hold on to it under pressure, unlike the forgotten man, Berbatov, who makes multiple defenders look foolish when trying to dispossess him. So A) the majority of his passing is innocuous stuff that accomplishes little and is forced via his shortcomings against defenders and B) the actual percentage of his work on the ball that actually counts for something is abysmally small.

    Lastly, as a midfielder about all Rooney has going for him is his energy. A good midfielder needs skill, good technique and touch, situational awareness and vision, an ability to find space and time on the ball, all coupled to an innate football intelligence. Rooney possesses NONE of these qualities!

    • Shaun

      November 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Berbatov hold up the ball? Is that what you call it.
      Just that what I see is a player who ‘dwells’ on the ball before being disposessed.
      Rooney could play anywhere and showed great adaptability to do a job in CM, but he needs to be playing where he’s most effective and SAF knows that.
      Cleverley is going to be a special talent and I can’t help but think that with the right attitude and application, Ravel Morrison could establish himself alongside him. Failing that both Pogba and Tunniclifee look very promising also. We might not see the aquisition were all anticipating.

    • Shaun

      November 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

      Oh and Timmmmmmmmy……..Your comments suggest that you know nothing about the game.

  5. janny

    November 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    i am a utd fan supporter and i know that this article isnt really accurate. the midfield needs to be shaken up dramatically like the defence by removing players that just aint good enough in a new style of football. first anderson is still at utd becuase of his potential but i really dont see he cam the same year as nani and both are going different directions. so loan him out to spain. get rid of carrick and gibson all should get £25m and buy hamsik kovacic perrira for together £50m. done

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