Kevin Garside: Alex Ferguson desperately needs to roll out Wayne Rooney of old – if he still exists

He did not want for effort, but the Manchester United striker is utterly disconnected from his mojo

Wayne Rooney is the only English striker to have made the shortlist of 15 frontmen for the Fifa/FifPro World XI. Rooney's selection reflects his standing as England's most important player, a reputation that lags behind the reality of a season that refuses to ignite for him.

Where is the somersaulting bulldozer who won the derby for Manchester United with that bicycle-kick two seasons ago? What happened to the butane content in boots that struck 27 times in the Premier League last season? Rooney's aimless plod through the dead Champions League rubber with Cluj on Wednesday was painful to observe. His selection on the right of United's rough diamond says much about his form. Even with Robin van Persie rested, Sir Alex Ferguson gave striking priority to the underused Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.

Rooney was left to run himself into some sort of shape and form in an unfamiliar role. He did not want for effort, he never does, but he is utterly disconnected from his mojo. Ferguson is clutching at mystic straws, borrowing from football's book of homespun philosophy with the view that Rooney's troubles are somehow rooted in his barrel-like physique and that he needs cranking into life like an old Ford.

The fitness profiling of the modern player is so deep as to blow that kind of analysis out of the telemetry machine. Besides, Ferenc Puskas carted a similar silhouette around Budapest for a decade before lighting up Real Madrid and was the pivot of the great Magyar ensemble that took England apart at Wembley in 1953 and might have won the World Cup a year later had injury not struck down the galloping major.

Rooney is 27 years old. It could be that a decade in the vanguard of the English game has slowed him, that what we are witnessing is a painful downgrading of a talent that promised the earth when he exploded out of the Everton dugout as a 16-year-old. He has not failed. By any measure Rooney has enjoyed a rich return. But nothing lasts for ever.

George Best played his last game for United at the same age. Ronaldinho arguably peaked around the 2006 World Cup at the age of 26. His last year at Barcelona was ravaged by injury and he was a Milan player at 28, nowhere near the force he was at the Nou Camp.

It may be that Ferguson's intuitive grasp of Rooney's condition is right, that he will confound pessimistic analysis and flower anew, maybe on Sunday at the home of Manchester City. Heaven knows, United need him at his best. Van Persie has done a magnificent job of papering over the cracks of an odd season that sees United take a three-point Premier League lead to the Etihad.

A year ago Ferguson decided on the Alamo option and was deservedly undone by a Vincent Kompany header. United couldn't keep out Mother Teresa at the far post this season, rendering unlikely any defensive ploy on Sunday. Rooney's relationship with Van Persie has shown promise, benefiting from the Englishman's ability to pick a pass occasionally, despite his wider failings.

Rooney tops the assists stats at United this season and his apologists point to a goal ratio of four from nine Premier League starts, which falls broadly into line with a career record of 203 in 458 club matches for Everton and United. But that is hardly the point when he cannot get into a game against a team as underwhelming as Cluj. His social media defenders made much of the position he was asked to play. That is a defence available only to the ordinary player. Rooney is supposed to be exceptional, an English beacon in a dark age.

He was certainly that during a first coming that peaked in 2010 with 34 goals in 42 starts post-Cristiano Ronaldo. United need to find a solution. Shinji Kagawa, signed to bridge the deficit in imaginative probing at the heart of United's midfield, will not make the Etihad date. Tom Cleverley, an effervescent if not commanding presence in midfield, limped out of the Cluj anticlimax. Fergie needs his barrel boy back to his best. He needs to roll out the old Rooney, if that player still exists.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home