A huge pay cheque aside, the best thing to come out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sale to Real Madrid, will be the opportunity the transfer affords Wayne Rooney to play (and stay) in his favoured central striking role next season. Sir Alex Ferguson, in seeking to spend his £100 million summer transfer kity, should ensure that he builds next year’s team around the mercurial talents of Scouser, who has been marginalised for too long in Ronaldo’s personal march for glory. Using Rooney in a central role, as England have found, is a strategy that always brings the best out of the player.
Since Rooney burst onto the scene with that goal against Arsenal in the Premier League, aged just 16, he has both benefited and suffered for his flexibility. While some of his earliest performances for Everton were on the right flank, most of his most recent games for United have been from the left. But it is his unselfish willingness to ‘take one for the team’ – in marked contrast to Ronaldo – that has been Rooney’s personal undoing.
Ferguson has often extolled the benefits of deploying Rooney on the left flank, arguing before this year’s Champions League final that “strikers going inside are far more dangerous. When Henry played as a striker, and sometimes when Wayne does, they try to escape and create space by drifting from the centre to wide positions, when that actually makes them less dangerous.”
Sound reasoning perhaps but it is through the centre of the park, either as a principal striker or ‘in the hole’ that Rooney has always been at his most effective. The virtues of Rooney the striker being able to cut into dangerous areas has always been red herring. The truth is that Rooney has been sacrificed for the sake of a tactical system deployed to cover the space in front of the full-back that Ronaldo always refused to.
No more. In recruiting at great expense this summer Ferguson must concentrate not on replacing Ronaldo’s goals per se, but reinforcing areas of the pitch where United have lacked strength in depth. With the probable arrival of Wigan’s Antonio Valencia, Ferguson will replace Ronaldo the right-winger. He must also buy to replace Rooney the left-winger.
While Ferguson’s task is made more difficult by the impending departure of Carlos Tevez, he has money to burn. This is why, in addition to Valencia, Ferguson will add two further top class players, and rumours of a move for David Villa, Karim Benzema and David Silva make sense.