Mourinho emphatically ends Man Utd captain’s midfield trial
There was no new precursor added to his famous “One” nickname during Jose Mourinho’s first Manchester United press conference.
Instead, his topics of discussion were far more interesting than a tired sound bite.
The new Red Devils boss took a swipe at his predecessor – “I was never good at hiding behind words and philosophies” – a swipe at his oldest enemy – “some managers last won a title 10 years ago” – and produced a Rafa Benitez-style list – “Do you want to know how many players I have promoted from academies? Forty nine. Do you want me to list them out?
Arguably the most intriguing section of the Portuguese’s introduction at Old Trafford, however, came when discussing Wayne Rooney’s role:
Jose Mourinho says Wayne Rooney will be a “No. 10, a No. 9, or a No. 9 and a half. But not a No. 6.” So he will not play midfield.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 5, 2016
The poignancy of those comments will not be lost on England fans still healing from watching their captain flounder painfully in midfield against Iceland at Euro 2016.
But Mourinho wasn’t finished:
“One thing that will never change is his natural appetite to put the ball in the net. Maybe he is not a striker, not a No9 anymore. But with me he will never be a No.6, playing 50m from goal. Yes, his passing is amazing but mine is also amazing without pressure. Many players have a great pass, but to put the ball in the net is the most difficult,” he said.
With that, the Rooney-as-Andrea-Pirlo experiment was over. At least on a domestic level. Instead, he’ll return to the apex of United’s attack, or perhaps just behind it with Zlatan Ibrahimovic now in town.
For many, that will be a sensible decision. Rooney’s displays for the Three Lions in France were polarising.
He displayed a range of passing that many saw as the calling card of a natural midfielder, but was often switching play diagonally to England’s full-backs while afforded a country-estate of space. He had 10 key passes during the tournament, but not a single assist.
Pulling strings further up the field, where Mourinho rightly suggests his eye for goal remains a handy weapon to have, will be a far better use of the United captain this season.
Who knows, he may even play a key part of his side’s title challenge, which we rate as a 7/2 chance.
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