Wayne Rooney back in the goal routine – but without the joyfulness

No one player can ever be bigger than the club, especially when the club in question is Manchester United, though one has the feeling Rooney has grown bigger than his present manager

So Wayne Rooney has been keeping his head down and concentrating on his football, has he? Good for him. Heaven knows what sort of attention he might have attracted had he spent his summer angling for a transfer.

The television interviews that followed Manchester United's Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen revealed a lot through being so unrevealing. Rooney is clearly not going to discuss recent events and is planning to stick to a stonewalling technique that amounts to letting his football do the talking. His football is practically singing at the moment, never mind talking, but it hardly took Gabriel Clarke's question about happiness to establish that Rooney's heart is not doing the same. When Rooney is happy you do not have to ask him about it, you can tell from the way he illuminates the screen. Conversely when Rooney is uncomfortable, his lips supplying methodically neutral answers while his eyes indicate he would rather be elsewhere, it is obvious to all that something that used to be joyful and instinctive has become hideously complicated.

There is no guarantee, of course, that Rooney would have been transformed into a carefree bundle of enthusiasm had he turned up at Chelsea but at this particular stage of his career he probably needed the sort of challenge a move to London and the chance to work with José Mourinho would have offered. That would have been a sink-or-swim situation, struggle or thrive, and it might have brought the competitor in Rooney back to life.

There is a sense that Rooney now finds life too easy at United. Even the scoring records that keep being wheeled out and presented as glittering targets for the striker to attain are considered reachable, including Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time mark, as long as he stays at the club and stays in the team. Which at the moment he looks like doing because United have rejected the alternative. No one player can ever be bigger than the club, especially when the club in question is Manchester United, though one has the feeling Rooney has grown bigger than his present manager. When David Moyes was asked about his striker's state of mind and immediate future he had nothing more concrete to offer than body language. "He looks lean and fit and he is moving as well as he has ever done," Moyes said. "Any centre-forward who is scoring goals feels good about himself."

Rooney certainly looks lean and fit, even if the bit about feeling good about himself is more questionable. He still looks somewhat bruised and backed into a corner and, while time, games and goals may prove a remedy, it is safe to say we have all seen Rooney feeling better about himself. Yet if the name of the game this summer was to establish that he deserves a place in the United starting line-up and ought not to have been left out of the fateful Champions League tie against Mourinho's Real Madrid, Rooney has won his battle. He is back in the team for the foreseeable future. In tandem with Robin van Persie. Shinji Kagawa is the one being benched or played out of position on the left. Whatever Sir Alex Ferguson was planning when he brought in the Japanese playmaker from Dortmund has not come about.

Kagawa probably wishes he was back in Germany, where he was a regular starter and hugely popular, and come Christmas, if there is any justice, his wish ought to be granted. United barely needed Kagawa last season and need him even less now.

It will be interesting to see if Ferguson reveals in his forthcoming book exactly what he had in mind when bringing Kagawa, as well as Van Persie, into the club. The latter's qualities were obvious and, by virtue of staying fit for a season, Van Persie provided the goals and the attacking focus that brought the title back to Old Trafford. But when Van Persie started his first league game in Manchester, so did Kagawa, with Rooney on the bench. It was immediately clear that, set up in this way, United might soon find Rooney surplus to requirements. What supporters will be keen to discover is whether this was the source of Rooney's disenchantment or whether Ferguson was reacting to some perceived fall-off in commitment from the striker and insuring himself with an alternative arrangement.

Whatever the motivation, the revolution never took place. Kagawa's technical excellence and ability to open up defences with quick, accurate passing remains a German theory that has never been properly validated in this country. His defenders would say he needs a decent run in the team in his favoured position but that is not going to happen any time soon, because his favoured position is the one currently occupied by Rooney. It is one or the other and the only time you could have both would be by leaving out Van Persie. If Rooney and Van Persie are the future, then Kagawa's future will have to be elsewhere.

Moyes did the square thing by giving him a start against Leverkusen but Kagawa will not have enjoyed playing on the left of midfield any more than Rooney used to and in any case United have a long list of players who are better out wide. Moyes has been accused of not seeing the value of Kagawa, though in truth this is a problem he inherited. Ferguson, too, had second thoughts last season. It was not only Rooney who was left out for the home tie against Madrid; Kagawa joined him on the bench. Ferguson used Danny Welbeck as the forward just behind Van Persie and United were doing pretty well until they were compromised by the unfortunate decision to dismiss Nani.

It is all history now, which one fears is what Kagawa's promising career will be if he has to spend too much longer on the Old Trafford sidelines. To get a run in the team he will have to displace Rooney or Van Persie and on current form, not to mention off-the-field politics, both roads appear to be barred. So United have failed with a bold attempt to change the way they play and import a little of Dortmund's explosive attacking fluency but on the other hand they have kept Rooney and he is playing very well. All things considered, and with due regard for Kagawa's sadly stalled progress, that seems like a positive outcome.

United could have scored as many goals as Real Madrid did in Turkey but for the scarcely credible misses by Rooney and Van Persie. With a Manchester derby at the weekend and City struggling for consistency in the league, United ought to be full of swaggering confidence. They have made a solid enough start and Moyes has answered most of the questions raised about his suitability for the job – except the ones about Rooney obviously. Even Rooney does not answer those. And neither does Mourinho, though watching Chelsea at Everton on Saturday, one could see why they were, and still might be, in the market for a powerful, direct striker.

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