When reports surfaced earlier this season that Manchester United were considering an offer from a Chinese club for the services of Wayne Rooney the first instinct was to scoff.
Rooney was, after all, captain of club and country and still only 30.
But while he did improve before his latest injury setback, Rooney’s overall form has dipped to a worrying degree and at a very quick rate over the last year.
Even last season the scouser, who signed for The Reds for a fee rising to £27m in August 2004, carried the Manchester United team through many games. But there were always concerns that a man with a heavy build, who has been playing top level football since he was 16, might not age so well.
Pace and energy were always important parts of his game and complemented his technique to make him the rare talent that he was for a decade.
But much of the zip has gone and he is slower on the ball than he was. Rooney is no longer a player who will run at defences as he used to in such devastating fashion. His game is far less explosive and much more passing based these days.
Furthermore, Rooney always seems to take time to recover his touch and rhythm after a spell on the sidelines so, in terms of EURO 2016, the injury has come at a very bad time for the forward.
With Harry Kane on fire and Daniel Sturridge looking fit and sharp once more you would have to assume that they are ahead of Rooney in the pecking order as things stand. Then come the likes of Jamie Vardy, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and even Marcus Rashford of Manchester United. All of these guys would offer the pace and vitality that Rooney can’t.
Rooney could still slot in at number 10 if he finds his rhythm quickly – but if Roy Hodgson goes for a more direct 4-3-3 formation, it may leave the captain at risk of not starting in France. And, with an almost telepathic understanding forming at club level, there is a strong argument for picking the remarkable Dele Alli to instead play in the hole behind Kane.
At club level Rooney’s place looks more assured as LvG may see him as the perfect number 10 behind the pacy likes of Rashford, Martial, Memphis and Lingard. But Mata and Herrera are pushing for the role too and are noticeably younger.
Perhaps Rooney may consider moving into a quarterback role for the last throes of his career. He’s a good tackler and a wonderful passer of the ball and may be better suited to a deeper position than one up top where he finds himself doing a lot of chasing – that requires true athleticism in the modern game and Rooney is no longer the seemingly superhuman, jet-heeled athlete that he was.
He’s a wonderful talent and TFF would continue to squeeze him into the side for club and country. But a role in the midfield might be his best chance of prolonging his career for Manchester United and England.