Cooney and Black

Van Gaal has rescued Manchester United’s season by playing badly and fielding Wayne Rooney in midfield – but he could be close to ruining England’s prospects

Louis van Gaal


NO WONDER Louis van Gaal seems so smug and acts so arrogantly. He can shrug his shoulders and deflect the criticism coming his way.

Having lost just once in 18 matches and sitting third in the Barclays Premier League, he can just point to the statistics when critics get on his back and savage the way his side is playing.

The art of being successful is winning games when you are not playing well, and van Gaal’s side were booed off Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Yes, despite beating Burnley 3-1.

But although the Dutch master has rescued United’s season, he could be close to ruining England’s prospects.

Van Gaal persists in playing Wayne Rooney in midfield, thus causing Roy Hodgson a succession of sleepless nights. For what does the England manager do now about his best player? Where does he find a place for a man who has always been an automatic choice?

United’s captain is a striker, but since the start of 2015 he has not had one single shot on target, let alone score a goal.

That’s because van Gaal, acknowledging he is the team’s best player, believes he can play anywhere. So, he has him at times operating as the deepest midfield player.

Rooney does not look comfortable. Some of his free-flowing runs have stopped, he does not attack with the ball so much, but he knows he has a job to do for his manager and thus justify his wages of £300,000 a week.

While United are up there competing, Rooney will stay in the role. Perhaps van Gaal sees in him what Hodgson clearly can learn from.

Perhaps we have seen the last of him in a striking role, the last of him as a penalty-box predator. Perhaps that is where he will eventually play for England.

But right now Hodgson has a problem. Ideally, Rooney works well with Daniel Sturridge, of Liverpool, in the international side, but there are other strikers coming to the fore who may deserve inclusion.

There is Harry Kane, of Tottenham, Charlie Austin, at QPR, Danny Ings, of Burnley. And where does Hodgson find a slot for Raheem Sterling – up front, or in midfield?

It is inconceivable that Rooney could be left out of any England line-up, but plans are formulated for next year’s European Championships; he has to build a new side, and find places for players such as Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Saido Berahino,

But, by using Rooney in midfield, United have stabilised and have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Van Gaal is not suddenly going to switch his skipper back to his more familiar and favoured striking role.

So what works for United could become an embarrassment for England. Perhaps Hodgson sees Rooney as a replacement for Steven Gerrard, but Rooney does not get about the pitch as much as he should. He appears to be at times not at full fitness.

United can get away with it in a League where the quality at best is questionable, but for England it is a different matter. If Hodgson picks him up front, then the likely lads such as Kane, Austin, and Ings don’t get a look in.

If he experiments by using him as van Gaal does, then where do Sterling, Lallana, Barkley and Wilshere fit in, not to mention Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

It is something that clearly troubles Hodgson. He has been at a lot of United matches recently, and it is claimed he considers where to play Rooney as a genuine problem.

In the meantime, van Gaal can put two fingers up to those who question his management skills and point to where his side are in the table. The run they are on entitles him to do so.


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