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.

Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Sport
sport
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents