Rooney's ability in midfield just highlights lack of flair at United
Manager admits he needs striker to return to attack despite his fine efforts in the middle
This weekend, even the grand old knight will take a moment to pause and reflect. Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager for 25 years, will no doubt permit himself the indulgence of scrolling through the flickering images of the teams he has built and the triumphs he has won, savouring the taste of old glories once more.
Ferguson will, of course, be spoiled for choice. Perhaps he might choose to recall his first great side, the one that wrested the league championship back to Old Trafford, driven on by the energy and power of Bryan Robson and Paul Ince. Or perhaps the snarling determination of Roy Keane, twinned with Nicky Butt's industry or Paul Scholes's grace, taking United to Barcelona and beyond.
And then, never one to linger long on past plaudits and with Sunderland's visit tomorrow to consider, the Scot may snap back to the present. A team to train, and a midfield to select, the roles of Robson and Ince, Keane and Scholes to fill. Here, the contrast. It would be wrong to suggest Ferguson has never overseen a midfield quite so weak in his long career south of the border, but only because of those forgotten, faded wilderness years in the late 1980s.
Not for two decades has the Scot found himself with such a paucity of resources. True, Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick are injured, Darren Fletcher is still in need of swaddling, but even when fit – and added to Anderson – this is not a vintage collection.
Ferguson's solution has been to deploy Wayne Rooney in that role, infusing the centre of the pitch with his aura. Against first Everton, then Otelul Galati, the Scot's vision was vindicated. "He has got the appetite for it, he has got the energy levels, his awareness is really good and his first touch is excellent," said the United manager yesterday. "He has played as a natural central midfield player."
That, of course, is the measure of Rooney. Great players, as the 25-year-old may one day be considered, have a chameleonic streak; Steven Gerrard, it has been observed, could be England's best right-back, should he so choose. More aptly, in a week rich in United history, Duncan Edwards could "play in any position, off either foot", according to no less an authority than Sir Bobby Charlton.
So too Rooney (above). But in his strength, Ferguson's weakness is exposed. Rooney is an excellent midfielder because he is an excellent footballer. But he is not a midfield specialist, as Ferguson acknowledges.
"He did well [against Galati] but I am not putting down any marker for that position because it really depends on what is available elsewhere," he said. "He has scored 10 goals so far this season so you want him to be in positions where he can get you more goals."
That will necessarily require removing him from midfield, and in doing so take away the placebo effect he provides. Ferguson's great United sides were controlled by generals, stationed in the middle of the field. It is ground now occupied by footsoldiers.
Ferguson may well permit himself a sweet reminiscence of wars fought and won this week but he will know, when Rooney returns to his post, there is another battle ahead.
Latest in Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo: Unhappy forward is ready to quit Real Madrid, according to Angel Di Maria
Commonwealth Games 2014: Australia launch Glasgow swimwear - but are criticised for drawing attention to the 'crotch' area
Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal: Jurgen Klopp concerned with Dortmund injuries and praises signings of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez
Hull City vs West Ham match report: Enner Valencia stars as honours shared at the KC Stadium
Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United: Ramon Calderon claims Real Madrid star is 'fed up'
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Vogue under fire for 'Big Booty' article
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'