Wayne Rooney remains the fans' favourite, but the future of Manchester United is with Shinji Kagawa
Supporters cheered the England striker's name at Old Trafford last night
The Rooney anthems thundered through the stadium, willing on the player whose struggles have been one of the few dark edges of this euphoric season. He responded gladly, drilling the two imperious 30-yard passes which bored the same number of holes in Aston Villa's goal, inside 15 minutes. There was a gilt about the second of them which eased away all the heaviness of this campaign: one touch and then two, shaping the ball Shinji Kagawa had just dropped off into his path, and then whoosh – the pinpoint delivery for Robin van Persie to caress in with that volley.
You wanted Wayne Rooney to join the cavalcade, then; be among the red throng who drove at Villa while the supporters reacquainted themselves with a few old songs, "Championes", "That's why we're champions". But the new pecking order at Old Trafford was staring him in the face.
The manager has been saying all season that Rooney must compete with Kagawa for the right to play in the hole behind Van Persie and it has become Kagawa's prerogative. The Japanese player's late emergence has been one of the stories of this spring around this stadium and last night he embellished it with his neat, precise, intelligent interchange of passes, the best of them sending Ryan Giggs motoring through the left channel to supply Van Persie's third goal. And all the time Rooney was left chugging along behind, deep in midfield.
He has always wanted to be everywhere on the pitch but this doesn't look like it suits him. He was blowing back there, last night, just as uncomfortable playing a hurried, untidy first-half ball back through the defence, creating momentary danger, as he was when Karim El Ahmadi dispossessed him in the same spot in the second half and put Christian Benteke through for a shot David de Gea sharply saved. Rooney yelled his protest about the challenge at no one in particular. He did not look like an immovable shield when Villa broke.
It is testimony to the gradient the 27-year-old Rooney has been on these past eight months that he is playing the kind of part you might expect of an old pro of 32. Last week at West Ham he operated so deep he took a square ball from Nemanja Vidic.
"If you've played in midfield all your life you know what it's all about," Lou Macari said earlier this season. "It requires a lot of energy up and down the pitch. There's no break for you. Is Wayne capable of doing that week in, week out? I don't think so. He is used to being up front and he is at his very best inside that box."
Macari also believes that not even Van Persie is more likely to score than Rooney when the ball breaks for him in the box and it was when the Englishman had been substituted that Kagawa blasted over from five yards, having feinted past Matt Lowton to create a gilded chance. "What the f***ing hell was that?" went up an ironic Stretford End chant. Kagawa will never be Rooney for them.
Rooney was as euphoric as anyone last night as the title was confirmed. But he is the one among the title-winners with most cause for thought this summer.
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