The modern football bubble lives week-to-week. More often than not opinion changes week-to-week as well. Take Wayne Rooney, who ended 2015 in dire form, and has begun 2016 on a scoring streak. The striker has five goals in four games, including two penalties, but some seem to have forgotten the player’s struggle throughout the previous year. Burst of form aside, the larger sample size of yesteryear has a greater bearing on our assessment of the player than four games ever could. Read More
Louis Van Gaal has been criticized of late for his insistence on possession-based tactics. Manchester United fans have become disenchanted by the perception of dull football and some have even taken to accusing Van Gaal of having lost touch with the fanbase. Read More
The narrative of Wayne Rooney’s career has always been complex. It had to be for the leading English talent in a generation. From boy-wonder to Manchester United’s elder statesman; transfer rebel to declining force. Rooney has rarely suffered for a shortage of unsolicited analysis. And yet, after 14 years at the top, here is he, set to start the Manchester derby on Sunday as United’s captain. Rooney’s talent may be on the wane, but his presence endures.
Despite the criticism attached to Rooney, in a period of diminishing returns, the Scouser is likely to end his career as England and United’s finest goalscorer. More than a decade on from that 25-yard strike against David Seaman’s Arsenal – the one announcing Rooney to the world – the striker remains omnipresent in the conversation.
Rooney is a player, and a man, whose story defies simple construct precisely because he has spent a career living with the labels attached by others: street ‘baller, working-class hero, the White Pele. Consumer of prostitutes, lover of the geriatric, family man and doting father. The most natural player England has produced since Paul Gascoigne; and perhaps, like the Geordie, an abuser of his talent as well.
The former Evertonian will finish his career with a series of personal and team records. Rooney’s 187 Premier League goals are 11 more than Alan Shearer had scored at 30, and 13 more than Thierry Henry. Robbie Fowler scored 35 fewer at the same age. Rooney has scored 50 for England in 108 caps and 236 in all competitions for United. In time Rooney will pass the 249 scored by Bobby Charlton for United, as he has passed the great man’s record for England. It is testament both to Rooney’s endurance and his relative consistency.
He has won five Premier League titles, the Champions League, two League Cups, and a Club World Cup. In 2010, Rooney was named the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year, four years after he collected back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year awards. In 2004, Rooney was voted into the Euro 2004 team of the tournament – arguably the only successful international tournament he has enjoyed.
Yet, there is also a sense in which, despite all the records and silverware, Rooney’s was a promise not completely fulfilled.
Teenage Rooney was a scorer of great goals and then even greater goals still. His game was at once a burst of electric excitement and, yet, refined beyond its years. On the pitch, Rooney was a man, both physically and mentally, long before he left adolescence. The player’s first touch was outstanding, despite contemporary evidence to the contrary, and his vision as finely tuned as any on the continent. Little wonder the game’s great and good saw much in the 16-year-old.
“Rooney could be another George Best, I have no doubt,” Arsene Wenger once said of the youngster. “But football is a high-level sport and you must live the life of a monk. There is only one thing to be answered – how much do you love to play the game?”
Prescient words, although there is no doubt Rooney loved it once. Perhaps before fame, tabloids, and money took over. Today, Rooney is seemingly weighed down, if not by the burden of a decade in the light, then 14 years of pounding the turf. The player’s touch has all but gone, and that burst of pace a relic of a time past. He risks fading from the game as so many have in the past; a punchdrunk fighter staggering around the canvas on one night too many.
It is a world away from Rooney the effervescent kid, who plucked the ball out of the air without a second thought, and curled a strike past David Seaman with a rare nonchalance. It was a great moment, no matter to whom one’s allegiance lies.
Rooney’s rise to the Everton first team was no surprise though. Having joined the Toffees before his tenth birthday, Rooney scored goals at every age group, including eight during Everton’s run to the 2002 FA Youth Cup final. A t-shirt bearing the slogan “Once a Blue, always a Blue,” worn by Rooney after Youth Cup final defeat to Aston Villa, would come to haunt the player for years to come.
He made his first team début against Tottenham Hotspur in August 2002 and scored twice against Wrexham in the League Cup later that month. In October 2002, five days before his 17th birthday, Rooney scored that winning goal against Arsenal. Three months later Rooney became the youngest player to feature for England, when selected against Australia at Upton Park in February 2003.
Euro 2004 proved a both catalyst in Rooney’s career and, not for the last time at international level, personally cataclysmic. He became the youngest scorer in the competition’s history, bagging two against Switzerland, before suffering injury in England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal. After scoring four goals in as many matches, Rooney was named in the Team of the Tournament. It remains his finest international tournament.
Rooney’s performance in Euro 2004 accelerated his transfer to Manchester in the face of a potential bidding war for the teenager’s services, although Newcastle United’s preëmptive £20 million bid that summer was never likely to succeed, according to Rooney at least. In the end, United paid a record sum for a player under 20 – more than £25 million. It has been repaid many times over.
It was one of those rare transfers that brought excitement to players and fans alike.
“I first came up against him when he’d come on at Old Trafford for Everton, and he just skipped past me,” said Ryan Giggs. “I just thought, ‘Ooh, who’s this?’ He was just 16 or 17 at the time and everyone was after him, so it was great to see him come to United, because I’d seen first hand how tough it was to play against him.”
If any doubts remained about Sir Alex Ferguson’s judgement in pushing through a deal, then Rooney’s début hat-trick in a Champions League group tie against Fenerbahce ended the debate. It was a moment of exuberance to excite even the most experienced pro.
Rooney scored 14 more that season and took home the PFA Young Player of the Year award, although United finished third, some 18 points behind José Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Yet, 2004 also proved to be the year in which Rooney first courted public controversy, with the player being forced to admit he regularly attended low-rent brothels in Liverpool. That his company turned out to be a 48-year-old rubber-wearing grandmother proved all-too-entertaining for the nation’s red-tops.
After all, Rooney has never been that far away from scandal, whether real or drummed up by the fourth estate. Prostitutes have remained a theme over the years, as were the red cards in Rooney’s early career. Those with England, such as the one obtained for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in the 2006 World Cup, drew headlines across the globe. He earned a reputation for petulance that was very slowly shed.
Though Rooney’s quality on the pitch remained high in years subsequent to 2004, his goalscoring consistency has always been questionable. It is the key failing that sets Rooney apart from the very best in his peer group – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi included.
The gap wasn’t always as stark as it is today, with some keen to factor into the analysis Rooney’s suspiciously lax approach to physical conditioning and a lifestyle that is not as monastic as Wenger once preached. There is always a lesson in history.
“Wayne can go on to achieve unbelievable things – he’s got so much talent,” Paul Gascoigne once said. “There were some things I knew I could get away with. Unfortunately, it all creeps up on you if you’re not too careful.”
The point remains unproven, if potentially judicious.
And if observers look back on Rooney’s career as one that is just a touch adrift of his former colleague, Ronaldo’s, then the Scouser’s role in two attempts to leave the club will also colour any future discussion. The first, in October 2010, is without dispute – and drew ire from fans everywhere – with Rooney’s entourage not only playing out negotiations through the press, but leaving little doubt that Manchester City was the destination of choice. It is a saga for which some will never forgive the player.
Rooney’s antics, more than five years ago, sought to leverage the mess of the Glazer ownership, by claiming the club “lacked ambition” during the height of Glazernomic parsimony. He had a point. Yet, Rooney also lost the public relations battle because Ferguson superbly tugged at fans’ instinctive loyalty, painting Rooney as a mercenary, the scourge of the modern game, in a masterpiece of public theatre.
Rooney’s second attempt at departure, in the summer of David Moyes’ appointment, remains more opaque. No written transfer request was forthcoming, claims Rooney, although Ferguson insists the player “wanted away” – the same language used three years earlier. Few doubt Rooney would have left for suitors Chelsea had United chosen to cash in.
In remaining at United through the summer of 2013, and later securing a lucrative five-year contract courtesy of Moyes’ persistence, Rooney was locked into his new place as an elder statesmen at the club. The effusive praise garnered through Moyes’ short reign certainly rankled with many; as do the “special privileges” proffered by Louis van Gaal. At least when the performances lack almost all the Rooney magic produced of old.
Rooney scored 19 in 37 appearances across all competitions under Moyes – 17 in the Premier League. No shame there, although just three came against traditional rivals: one versus City in a 4-1 defeat in September 2013 and two against Tottenham Hotspur in December that year. Under Van Gaal Rooney’s performance and output have declined further still. There are many who believe the player has not truly performed for the club since grabbing 34 in the 2011/12 campaign.
It is hard to argue that almost every indicator from the now 30-year-old suggests a player in a rapid cycle of permanent decline.
Rooney could seemingly care less for the observation and his manager remains effusive in support. Rooney’s privileges will remain for the season at least, not least because he is under contract until June 2019. One fact is sure: neither City nor Chelsea will make a bid next summer
Yet, to the player, the reduced output is simply the product of an enduring team ethic – one that has last more than 14 campaigns at the very top.
“I’m sure if you follow my career over the years, I’ve always been a team player,” Rooney said this week. “I want to score goals but the main aim is to be a team player – and that’s what I’ll continue to do. There’s nothing better than being successful as a team, to enjoy it with the players and coaches you’ve worked with. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Doubters remain, however, even as Rooney creeps towards Charlton’s goal tally. Rooney’s eventual record is one that may not be broken for generations to come. When the player crosses the threshold – at some point, in all likelihood, next season – he will have earned all the praise that comes.
There will also be detractors with a point too; one far more nuanced than modernity typically allows. That 16-year-old blossomed, but perhaps not as brightly as the summer of 2004 once promised. And, in the end, Rooney’s goals and years at United come with a caveat about his loyalty – the depth of which will vary with the observer.
That he wanted out and that his quality has dried up is not in doubt. Whether that matters is another point. After all, the narrative of Rooney’s career has always been complex.
It’s the opening day of the 2015/2016 season. Manchester United faces a potentially tricky opener against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney, restored to a role at number nine, is in acres of space in the Spurs area. The United skipper takes a touch and is ready to pull the trigger…
It’s the stuff of dreams for red top headline writers – Rooney’s triumphant goal-scoring return as United’s main striker. Except, of course, Kyle Walker nipped in to score an own goal, leaving United’s number 10 resembling a confused zombie from the American TV series, The Walking Dead.
In truth Rooney’s lot hasn’t improved much this season. He performed poorly against Aston Villa, was wrapped in a mental straightjacket at Swansea City, and mostly recently there were disappointing outings against Wolfsburg in the Champions League and United’s heavy defeat to Arsenal.
Rooney’s failure, for example, to bury a regulation chance against the German side summed up his season so far: painfully underwhelming. Rooney would have buried that chance a decade ago; the contemporary version opted for something regularly seen at the Rugby World Cup.
Still, there has been the odd touch of hope for his supporters. Rooney scored a hat-trick against Club Brugge, bagged another against Ipswich Town, and his goal against Sunderland ended a Premier League drought that lasted 999 minutes. The number is apt – a call for help from a player completely out of form.
The real issue, of course, is whether Rooney’s extended slump is temporary or if the Scouser is in a state of permanent decline.
In 2011/2012 Rooney enjoyed his best Premier League return – 27 goals. With his best years in front of him, many believed it was the campaign where Rooney would establish himself as a truly world-class talent. It didn’t happen. Indeed, if recent Premier League history is a guide then supporters may already have seen the best of Rooney.
With Louis van Gaal’s side struggling for goals last season the Dutchman addressed the issue by bluntly admitting that his squad did not contain a 20-goal-a-season striker. Even with Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie a shadow of their past glories, Rooney was redeployed in midfield.
The popular suggestion was that the United captain being wasted by Van Gaal. All the Dutchman needed to do was deploy Rooney up front and United would fire again. It was always a misguided belief – Rooney has never been a prolific striker even if he is on course to become United’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Rooney has scored over 20 league goals just twice in his United career. Even when he has broken the 20-goal barrier United has not gone on to win the Premier League. In fact Rooney’s highest title-winning tally came in 2006/07 when he scored 14.
Closer inspection does Rooney few favours: he has managed to score 16 or more goals in a league campaign only four times during his United tenure. Much like Mark Hughes, Rooney might well be a scorer of great goals, but not a great goal scorer.
And the goals are drying up if the past three seasons are anything to go by.
Prelude to a decline?
The 2011/12 campaign should have provided the springboard for Rooney to embark on a sustained period of goal scoring excellence. Yet, even though he managed to bag 27 league goals there were already signs of decline. The season included a six-game Premier League scoreless streak, a reminder that the White Pele could suffer from dry spells even during his most prolific periods.
Then, in April 2012, Rooney bagged a brace against Aston Villa. Not a bad day’s work, except for the critique it drew from Sir Alex Ferguson for Rooney’s wastefulness.
“He was careless. Wayne has to play on the edge of a game, when it is really close and competitive,” Ferguson said. “When the game gets to that casual bit, he is worse than the rest of them. He gets really casual about it. It is better when he is on the edge. Then he is a marvellous player.”
Fergie’s Final Fling
The 2012/13 campaign was the start of three seismic years at United. It would be Sir Alex’s final season at Old Trafford – a decision that saved Rooney’s United career. The United manager signed van Persie that summer, who had scored 30 league goals for Arsenal the season before. As van Persie flourished, Rooney found himself part of the supporting cast.
Though Rooney helped create goals in the opening 10 Premier League games – six assists in total – his goal scoring output was desperately poor. The former Evertonian failed to score in nine matches with the exception being a brace against Stoke City. Rooney’s assists offered some compensation for his lack of goals in this run though – he was directly involved in eight.
In the second third of the season Rooney scored 10 goals in 11 games, including two huge goals at Manchester City. And when Rooney scored, United won. But Rooney failed to find the net in the final five games that season, although he did provide that pass for van Persie’s vollied goal against Aston Villa. By that time the Reds were already 15 points clear.
While no longer the key man, Rooney was still a relatively important cog in United’s chase for the title. United won 19 of the 27 games featuring Rooney and he had a direct role in 22 goals. In the 11 games where Rooney did not play, United won nine, drew one and lost one.
Once again, there were scoreless streaks. After scoring against Stoke, Rooney failed to hit the net for five games, and his final goal of the season against Reading was a prelude to a six game drought. In fact Rooney only scored in eight out of 27 games.
The Moyes Error
Fergie’s exit ushered in the short David Moyes era, and perhaps the only mark the Scot made at Old Trafford was his decision to retain Rooney at any cost, gifting the player a contract that will keep him at the club till 2019.
Rooney scored in seven of his opening 12 games, notching eight goals, atlhough United won just three matches in which the forward found the target. He then embarked on another fallow period, scoring once against Hull City, in nine league matches. Rooney was far from alone as United underperformed with Moyes at the helm, but whether he was scoring or not his impact on matches seemed to diminish, with David de Gea proving to be United’s most important player.
In particular, Rooney’s contribution against the bigger sides was limited. He took the corner that led to van Persie’s goal against Arsenal in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. That was about as good as it got. Rooney’s two at White Hart Lane helped earn United a draw against Spurs, but he failed to make a significant contribution against City – scoring admittedly a good consolation goal at the Etihad – Everton and Liverpool.
Rooney scored eight times in the final eight games, but crucially couldn’t find a way to hurt the big guns when it mattered – and as one of the key players under Moyes, the Scouser was tasked with winning games. By the time Rooney scored his final two goals of the season against Norwich City, Moyes had gone.
Though Rooney operated at 10 for Moyes, he rarely demonstrated the guile, speed or technique to operate effectively. Despite the record-breaking acquisition of Juan Mata, Rooney still occupied the central berth, leaving Johnny Kills to struggle on the wings.
Rooney’s underachievement was masked by the abject failure of the Moyes error.
“Some of the players, I can tell you, like Rooney, I don’t think he has to learn anything more. So that will be difficult for him if the coach says: ‘You have to do it in a completely different way. Whatever you did until now, change it.'” – Mehmet Scholl.
Good theory, although in practice the former German international couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact not only was Rooney appointed captain, but with it came privileges. Rooney plays no matter how misfiring Van Gaal’s attack.
Rooney had a respectable record to start last season, with scoring eight times in his first 14 games under van Gaal. Highlights included the winner at Arsenal in November – Rooney’s last goal away from Old Trafford – his strike against Liverpool, and a red card against West Ham United for hacking down noted speedster Stewart Downing.
The goals masked a dip in performance though. Rooney’s first touch was markedly worse, his explosiveness long gone, passes were going astray and he was becoming increasingly one-paced.
Perhaps this explained van Gaal’s decision to shift Rooney into midfield – and it’s telling that the United captain accepted this move. Under Ferguson, Rooney was frustrated at not being played in his preferred position; under van Gaal he put in a steady, if unspectacular, shift in the middle of the park.
Rooney embarked on an eight match mid-season run without scoring a league goal or claiming an assist. He was facilitating the movement of the ball as van Gaal looked to impose his possession based football philosophy on United. In that period, starting away at Spurs, United won three, drew three and lost twice. Rooney broke his barren run with two goals against Sunderland, but then went on to score just two more in his final 10 games of the season. The captain’s influence seemed fleeting at best.
Two goals brought back memories of the old Rooney: the bulldozing run, calm finish and knockout celebration against Spurs. The other, against Villa, was a spectacular volley after controlling Ángel Di María’s cross. Tantalizing glimpses of glories past and a sober reminder of his decline. Rooney’s burst of speed against City, driving towards goal before choosing to pass rather than shoot, was a moment that encapsulated the kind of player he was and the kind he has now become.
If the first 14 games gave the impression that for United to win Rooney needed to be on song the following 19 fixtures suggested a team that was far less reliant on the captain. United won seven games in which Rooney didn’t score, with his only assist coming in the Manchester derby.
After the experiment with Rooney in midfield the Scouser was moved back up front this season, with Van Gaal confident that his captain would net at least 20 goals in the Premier League.
To date Rooney has contributed one goal and no assists and, in truth, has found it difficult up front on his own. Rooney now lacks the pace to beat defenders, nor does he possess the technique to create chances for teammates in attacking areas. Average performances against Spurs, Villa and Swansea, where he gave away the ball leading to the Swans’ equaliser, point to a player whose time at the top level may soon be up.
Rooney’s passing pattern is too often an ode to the sideways ball, although he still has a penchant for raking Hollywood balls that slow down the attack. If anything Rooney looks like even more of a passenger since Anthony Martial’s acquisition.
The Frenchman’s pace creates room for the flair players to operate, with Mata particularly reveling in the free space. The French international’s finishing is nerveless and has slotted into United’s system seamlessly. Indeed, Martial has given United the cutting edge that was expected of Rooney.
In the leadership stakes Rooney appears to have been surpassed by Bastian Schweinsteiger who exudes calm and authority. With each passing game the United captain looks meeker. Indeed, while much was made about Mata taking United’s penalty against Wolfsburg, it was perhaps more telling that Rooney played second fiddle to Andreas Pereira on free kicks.
What to do with Wayne?
It leaves a question: that after playing professional football since aged 16 is Rooney finally burned out? At this rate the only milestone Rooney will reach this season is his 30th birthday.
For all the data Rooney’s decline doesn’t really need numbers. There have been attempts to explain Rooney’s anonymity. Gary Neville came up with the ‘Silent Dominator’, which sounds more like a kinky fetish. Elsewhere, the system has been blamed, as has Van Gaal’s preference for playing controlled, possession football. The multitude of explanations are a misnomer. Just maybe Rooney is past his best.
Once able to rely on pace, power and explosiveness, modern day Rooney has lost all of those qualities. Rooney is struggling to find and convert chances; he’s struggling to create for others. He’s just struggling. More importantly, perhaps, he has found it difficult to reinvent himself – a player fighting against time.
Rooney’s problem is United’s problem. Tied to a long-term deal, with no other top club likely to make the moves that City and Chelsea did in 2010 and 2013, only the distant horizon provides the salvation of a move to MLS.
Rooney has, of course, achieved much during his career. He’s won trophies galore, is England’s all-time leading goal scorer, and is 15 strikes away from over taking Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s leading scorer. But neither can the silverware detract from the decline. With each passing game a return to form is increasingly becoming a forlorn hope more than an expectation.
In the meantime, Rooney’s special privileges continue, fitness excepting. And injury is perhaps the thing that Rooney needs least. In his current form, he may find it difficult to get back into the team. Privileges or not.
Louis van Gaal’s side is currently top of the Premier League table, and finally in the points in the Champions League. Yet if you believe much of the written press and watching public, this Manchester United side is not very good. It’s a confusing paradigm for the watching journalists as they report on the country’s form team. The Red Devils edged past Wolfsburg on Wednesday night, beating the Germans 2-1 despite a poor start and nervous finish. The highlight of the night was Juan Mata’s performance, whose irresistible play resembled that of his Chelsea days, when the Spaniard was the most feared attacking midfielder in the league.
Mata has learned to play the Van Gaal way, often having to sacrifice flair for function. Under David Moyes, the diminutive Spaniard was lost in a system which wreaked of inadequacy; a toxic mess of Evertonian steel mixed with tactical ineptitude. Van Gaal demands an exceptional work rate from his players, and if you were to believe Jose Mourinho’s judgement on application, Mata would be the first one out the Old Trafford door.
However, the player has made the right side attacking berth his own, popping up in a number of positions as he looks to move inside and participate. His work rate is outstanding too; only Morgan Schneiderlin covered more ground against Wolfsburg.
Mata’s display against Wolfsburg demonstrated just how much potential he has in a United shirt. He is a natural number 10, but has been overlooked by three successive coaches for the central role. The question for Van Gaal now is whether to ‘promote’ Mata into that role, leveraging the player’s stellar form, or stick with what he knows.
Mata has scored three goals and made three assists from his seven league matches this season and is in prime form to play behind Anthony Martial as United’s trequartista. But if this is the case, the question remains of what to do with Wayne Rooney.
The focus of attention in England is always on Rooney, with the extra weight of being Van Gaal’s captain also on his shoulders. Handling pressure is the not the issue for the skipper; the quality of his game, however, is not currently at its highest.
Rooney shifted from a role as United’s number nine to 10 after Martial’s purchase, with many supporters happier that the ‘boy wonder’ was moved to a deeper role. It is, however, a myth that Rooney is a modern number 10.
In the same way that Peter Crouch might be considered an old school striker, Rooney is a throwback to a deep-lying attacker. He neither threads a through pass or ghosts past opponents — as all trequaristas are expected to do. Rooney’s pace is no longer a relevant part of his arsenal, and it is a cold fact that he doesn’t score many goals.
It begs the question of what exactly Rooney does? In a year of transition, Rooney gave Van Gaal authority in the dressing room in a way Moyes never had. Rooney leads the Dutchman’s incarnation of United. He’s the archetypal ‘Prince of Wales, not the King of the Castle’, but is certainly not a commoner in the hierarchy of the club.
Rooney’s elevated club status has given Van Gaal a focal point within his squad that many believed Robin van Persie would provide. But Van Persie’s fall from grace gave the manager only one choice, and he gambled on the White Pele as his central protagonist.
That was fine for the first 12 months under the Van Gaal regime, but the club and side has evolved. There is, for example, Chris Smalling’s rebirth and Ashley Young’s reintegration into the squad as an important player. The acquisitions of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin have addressed the central midfield disease Rooney was asked to cure last term.
This evolution has made Rooney less relevant; Mata’s form and Martial’s explosive start to life at United dictate that Van Gaal should be brave and drop his captain. Yet, the manager’s words after United’s victory over Wolfsburg point towards Wayne staying in the team, unduly untouchable. Worse still, Van Gaal refused to give Mata the plaudits he deserved after a magnificent night.
“I don’t talk about individual performances, but I have seen Mata playing better than he did against Wolfsburg,” said Van Gaal. “I can say as a manager that he played very well and agree with you, but I don’t agree with you.”
It is a convoluted statement, considering Mata’s influence guaranteed United the points, but Van Gaal’s words appear to solidify Rooney’s role, by dodging the question of whether Mata should be moved to a role behind the striker.
Rooney has one goal in six Premier League games, and if this is the player’s ratio over the course of the season, he will do well to break double figures. This would be in line with the player’s grand contribution of 12 league goals last season, but if Rooney is to be Van Gaal’s main attacker – pulling the strings – then United need much much more.
Mata is ready for an extended run in a more central role, freeing up space for Young, who — despite being one of the Reds’ best players in the opening weeks of the campaign — has been forced to watch from the sidelines as the disappointing Memphis Depay finds his feet.
Mata would help Memphis and Young as they provide the width, and with Martial’s obvious pace, the Spaniard could practice the art of the through ball to his heart’s content.
The Rooney question has become a rhetorical one in 2015, but even the Englishman’s most fervent supporters admit he is not the force he once was. Meanwhile, Mata’s career has been on hold since Mourinho dumped him in favour of Oscar. It’s easy to forget the midfielder was one of the brightest talents in the world just a few years ago.
As Rooney enters his 30th year in October, Mata is in his prime, aged 27. Van Gaal may feel that sacrificing his captain is a sign of weakness, both to the squad and the British press, but the Merseysider’s displays have now sunk to such a low level, the coach must at least try to give a genuine creative talent a chance.
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!”
There is not much to Les Ulis, a collection of shabby concrete and ill-concieved mid-century tower blocks, born of the booming 1960s French economy. It is a town far from the emotional heart of the student uprisings that took place later in the decade and the cultural renaissance that followed.
Located in département Essonne, some 20 miles south of Paris, Les Ulis boasts little of note. Courtabœuf, one of the continent’s largest industrial parks, forms a large part of the area’s post ’60s development.
It is a suburb seemingly far from the nation’s cultural heartbeat, but one that has become a maternal home to myriad talent. Thierry Henry, Yaya Sanogo, Patrice Evra, and Anthony Martial, call Les Ulis home.
Founded in 1977, amid the building works of the new town, Club Omnisport des Ulis operates much as it has for the best part of 40 years. It is a breeding ground for youth, a social club for the local community, and a team barely ascended from the lower reaches of the French league system. Martial’s rise to the professional ranks was hardly certain then, although the adage that talent begets talent may well be true however modest the surroundings.
Martial’s acquisition by Manchester United was not without criticism this side of the channel, nor doubt back in France. Humble beginnings will breed that. The predominant opinion was that Martial owned a sharp talent, but one that had achieved limited returns in less than 50 matches as a professional.
After all Monaco had snapped up the youngster as a 16-year-old for just €5 million in 2013, and while there was much hope for the free-scoring French under-16 international, no guarantee comes with a talent so raw.
And in truth few supporters knew much about Martial before United’s deadline day largess; a transfer that will cost the club at least €40 million, with substantial add-ons should Martial become one of the planet’s finest. Even those who caught Monaco’s Champions League fixture against Arsenal last season, will only fleetingly remember the player, save for the sprightly run and pass that enabled Dimitar Berbatov for the French side’s breakaway third goal.
For the rest Martial’s introduction at Old Trafford has heralded a joyous few days. Four games in which the level of expectation has risen from abstract hope to stratospheric confidence. Warnings of ‘early days’ be gone: everything Martial has demonstrated to date screams ‘world star in the making’. Heaven indeed.
Here is a player with all the requisite tools. The youngster’s first touch is outstanding, the pace blistering and his composure puts more seasoned players to shame. There’s something else though; a touch of magic whenever Martial gets the ball and runs at an opponent. The last player to pass through Old Trafford with that talent: Cristiano Ronaldo. Wayne Rooney once had that too.
“He’s like you see him in a game, very calm, very relaxed, his head is on his shoulders,” says Morgan Schneiderlin of his compatriot and now international team-mate.
“He’s an amazing talent, many people would have been confused by the price tag but he came to the Premier League on his toes. He just wants to do the best, he’s a very intelligent guy, very calm, has shown great composure, great skill and great power. He will be a great player for the future of Manchester United.”
That intelligence has seemingly accelerated adaptation to a new environment, although his manager, Louis van Gaal, admits that the real test will come when wife and child join the player in Manchester later this month. For the moment Martial is camped in the Lowry Hotel – and living on the adrenaline from goals scored against Liverpool, Southampton and Ipswich Town.
In those four strikes Martial has set a high bar, but each also offers confidence in the multi-faceted talent at play. Against Liverpool Martial scored the most individual of goals, weaving between two defenders and calmly scoring; the predator emerged in United’s fixture with Southampton; and in last week’s game at home to Ipswich the teenager demonstrated the raw power at his disposal.
So can Martial continue in a similar vein in more testing fixtures to come during a difficult October programme?
“He has the talent for it, that I have said, but when you are 19 years old you cannot expect consistency. Mostly, he shall have a lot of dips so that I expect also from him,” says Van Gaal.
“But that is not a big problem for me. I am very happy with what he gave and the talent at a high level. And he has adapted to the system that we want, which is also important. He wants to do that and it is not so easy.”
The fine start to his United career, adds Van Gaal, is down to “luck, quality and an open personality.”
“The main thing is his quality. As a player, he has to do it and he has to cope with the pressure. What we have seen until now, he can do it. He is listening, he is watching, he is focusing on the matches. For a manager, he is a very coachable player.”
It is an assessment that could once be made of Wayne Rooney, of course, now United’s elder statesman whose form and declining talent is held in stark contrast to Martial’s explosive introduction. Rooney’s acquisition came at a similarly lofty price for a teenage striker who had appeared in just 77 games for Everton before a £27 million move to Old Trafford in 2004.
Rooney was electric too, scoring a hat-trick on his début against Fenerbahce in the Champions League, and grabbing 17 in 33 starts during his first campaign for United. Martial and manager alike would be delighted with a similar return in the Frenchman’s first season in Manchester.
Martial’s introduction also tempts nostalgia for the player Rooney once was. In the Scouser’s golden period – between 2005 and 2011 – Rooney was for a time one of the world’s great forwards. It is easy to forget the superb number nine and gifted number 10. Two players in one. Rooney ran at opponents with electric pace, bringing supporters to their feet, much as Martial does now. As a teenager Rooney had the touch and maturity of player far more experienced.
Today, Rooney is neither United’s best number nine, nor the team’s most talent 10. Too slow off the mark to trouble the best central defenders as a lone striker; too crude with his first touch to compare with the best creative players in Van Gaal’s squad, let alone on the continent. If Martial has done anything, it might well be to hasten Rooney’s gradual elimination from the team. The club might just be better for it.
The temptation is to declare Rooney shot. Not that the former Evertonian has become a player of limited talent, but that too many years and too many games – and perhaps too little professionalism – have blunted Rooney’s pace and loosened the technique.
Still, Rooney has scored five for United this season – three against Club Brugge, another in the Capital One Cup fixture with Ipswich last Wednesday and one in off his knee on Saturday versus Sunderland. It was the Scouser’s first Premier League goal since April.
“I don’t think that is an issue for him, for me or for the club, so he shall score also in the Premier League. That I am convinced of. And you shall see it,” claims Van Gaal, but he cannot be without concern.
Martial, meanwhile, is rapidly paying off his fee, while covering for Rooney’s sharp decline. That hefty fee secured his old club in Les Ulis a £150,000 windfall as part of FIFA’s ‘solidarity’ system. It completes, in a fashion, a full circle for the teenager who once received Evra’s boots as an inspirational gift.
How close is Louis Van Gaal to achieving his philosophy? The Dutchman’s side dropped its first points of the campaign against Newcastle United on Saturday — and the Manchester United family wept at the heinous crime that is a goalless draw. United struggled in the final third of the pitch against a resolute Geordie defence, which was happy to park the bus and take a solitary point. The visitors almost stole the match at the death with a rare counter-attack.
The Red Devils now have seven points from nine, and have yet to concede a goal in the Premier League, but something isn’t quite right. On paper, United’s starting XI is full of both function and flair, but the attack rarely threatened with menace against the sleeping giants from the North East.
United enjoyed 70 per cent possession in Saturday’s game and created 20 attempts on goal, but Tim Krul hardly had his busiest day at the office as Van Gaal’s team laboured in attack. Van Gaal seems content to carry on deploying the Wayne Rooney-Adnan Januzaj axis as the front pairing, but the two players managed a combined total of five attempts on goal in 90 minutes. It is the same figure as Juan Mata, who opened up space by cutting in from his wide right berth.
The fourth player in this attacking quartet is Memphis Depay, and it would be unfair to pass any deep judgement on the boy at this stage. Memphis showed in the Champions League play-off first-leg that he is a special talent – and yet also incredibly raw, with some clear deficiencies in his game.
Memphis’ languid style without ball is going to gain him few fans in the Stretford End, with only Dimitar Berbatov displaying similar traits in United’s attack in recent memory. In the player’s 240 minutes of Premier League football Memphis is yet to register a goal or an assist, only shining against Club Brugge — the level of team he was used to facing in the Netherlands.
United’s new Magnificent Seven needs to add genuine application to his armoury, as well as finding the space to play his A game. Like many 21-year-olds, Memphis struggles to retain control of the ball consistently, but the early signs suggest he will not be the marauding player the team needs. If one could harness the efficiency and work of Ashley Young, and combine it with Memphis’ technical ability, it would be a wonderful talent. Memphis’ transformation is unrealistic in the short term, but the player has to bring more to the table in each game. The trait of strolling around the pitch with his head down when not involved with play wont be accepted over the longer piece.
It is unlikely Rooney, Adnan, Memphis and Mata will be Van Gaal’s long-term forward line though. As it stands it is a huge gamble to see if the quartet pays off over the coming months, rather than just weeks. The transfer window closes in nine days, and Van Gaal needs to find the club’s next principal goal-getter — a striker who will come straight in and require no time to settle down, guaranteeing the team an extra 20 goals a year.
The odd one out appears to be Rooney. Against Newcastle, the captain played 55 minutes at number nine and 35 minutes as United’s number 10. He did not excel in either role. Since Rooney joined United as a teenager there has always been a fluid debate about the player’s best position, but currently he neither has the pace to be the striker, or the touch to be the playmaker.
Fans of the England skipper will happily highlight the deficiencies in United’s other three attacking players, but it is Rooney’s job to inspire and lead this team. Januzaj and Memphis are kids, and Mata has defensive duties added to his mandate on the right – a job something that is not natural. Rooney has few excuses: he is playing a role he knows and yet is committed to wanders all over the midfield like it’s 2007. The Scouser’s contribution is minimal.
United’s game against Newcastle offered plenty of evidence. At one point during the second half Mata slid a beautiful pass between full-back and centre-back for Rooney to chase, but the Boy Wonder got nowhere near it. Sergio Aguero would have. United must consider finding a striker who has the kind of pace that allows Van Gaal’s attacking players and central midfielders to harness.
However, there are also positives amid the concerns. Daley Blind looks more than competent in central defence; his lack of pace will certainly be exploited when facing genuine world-class strikers, but this will not be the case for most of the season. Chris Smalling has developed his game to a new stratosphere, looking both powerful in the air and assured on the ground, and the Londoner’s overall performance value is the main reason United has not yet to conceded.
The defence will definitely suffer uncertain moments in the coming weeks, but the back-four and players in reserve now dictate that Van Gaal needs to invest in goal scorers rather than defenders. Matteo Darmian is already one of the finds of the summer, and Luke Shaw now looks more like a man this season compared to the boy of 2014.
United’s central midfield has been the club’s achilles heel since Paul Scholes’ retirement, but if Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin remain fit, there will be few concerns about area of the team. Ander Herrera appears to be the squad’s forgotten man; superficially, Van Gaal simply doesn’t rate him, despite Herrera’s incredible popularity among United’s supporters.
Yet, Van Gaal only has days to solve the issues in attack. The Dutchman will know better than anyone he wont be given limitless time to get it right, given the number of marquee managers who will be available next summer. If there is not a marked improvement this term, the board will move for a fresh coach, with Pep Guardiola set to leave Bayern in 2016 and Jurgen Klopp looking for his next great challenge. Success does not need to be instantaneous, but anything that resembles failure will be punished with the sack.
Van Gaal is not a gambler; he prepares meticulously and studies players with a forensic eye. He is not afraid to give youth a chance or persist with less fashionable players, but as Robin van Persie can attest, Van Gaal is ruthless when it comes to his task. It is personal survival.
The similarities between Van Persie and Rooney are apparent, and the coach must decide to find a new natural predator for his attack, or stick with the captain – a player who just achieved two shots on target in a Premier League game for the first time since the 28 February.
Is that really good enough? Only Van Gaal and his process can decide.
As statements go, Wayne Rooney’s performance under Aston Villa’s Friday night lights, said everything. Blowing hard by the end, in Manchester United’s second successive 1-0 victory, the Scouser looked far from match sharp. In truth the game passed Rooney by: second best to every ball, rarely involved in the visitors’ limp attack and one-paced when in possession. It was one of the former Evertonian’s very worst performances in Red.
Rooney’s nondescript contribution in the Midlands might pass with little comment had it been a one-off, but the Scouser has looked off-the-pace through four pre-season games and United’s opening Premier League fixtures. It is a level of absenteeism now so stark that Rooney’s position in the side is being question by more than just a vocal fringe.
It would take a prolonged downturn for the mass of United’s support to pivot against the 29-year-old striker, but the mood on Friday night – at least in the polarising world of social media – was distinctly dark.
After all, Rooney’s minimal contribution extends beyond this summer’s early matches to much of the previous campaign, where he scored just 12 goals in a mix of attacking and midfield roles. When deployed in midfield or wide roles Rooney contributed eight goals, two assists, and just a touch over 1.6 key passes per game across 19 matches. Up front f0ur goals came in 14 matches. Performances? Underwhelming all.
The campaign before Rooney’s perceived hard work under David Moyes won hearts and minds, even if the Scouser’s tactical indiscipline might have cost more than it gained. His contribution stretched to 19 goals in 37 matches as United’s principal striker in a fundamentally disastrous season.
Beyond the numbers it is fair to observe that Rooney did little to bring United’s standard to an acceptable level under Moyes, or the squad into the fold as ailing manager and players became ever more divided.
In the present – a lack of goals aside – Rooney’s numbers look particular shoddy against Spurs and Villa, where he was involved in neither the Reds’ attacking nor defensive phases of the game on the opening day. Rooney’s two strikes against Spurs were both off target, while he made little in the way further attacking contribution.
Of the striker’s 29 successful passes at Old Trafford 19 went backwards. Even if that data point is mitigated by a player working with his back to goal, Rooney failed with his one attempted cross and a singular attempted take-on. Of the two chances Rooney created last weekend both were passes that led to a hopeful long-range shot.
His lethargy on the ball almost cost United the winning goal, and as the hosts’ go-to attacking focal-point, Rooney was very much an absent landlord.
It was even worse against Villa. The forward took no shots, took on no opponents, delivered no crosses and created just one chance – a 10 yard sidewards pass to Memphis Depay more than 45 yards from goal. Memphis’ determined run led to a shot; hardly one in the credit column for Rooney.
Once again most of Rooney’s passes went backwards, with the Scouser then dropping frustratingly deep at all the wrong times, only to give the ball away as United’s attack broke down. His first touch was as poor as at any time over the past decade.
Yet, this was supposed to be Rooney’s season. Restored to lead United’s attack at number nine, with the target of reaching more than 20 goals set by Louis van Gaal, Rooney has been proffered an opportunity to restore his lustre of greatness. Indeed, much of Van Gaal’s tactical focus is on the Scouser’s shoulders this season – a central spoke around which United’s myriad attacking midfielders can work.
They cannot if Rooney remains as static and ineffective as this.
“Our aim is to play with Rooney in the striker’s position,” said Van Gaal earlier this summer. “We have confidence that he can score more than 20 goals there. That is more than the strikers last year.”
Rooney, it seems, agrees. Number nine is Rooney’s “best position,” with the striker holding “no doubts” that he can score “20 goals or more” this season.
“The two seasons I have really done that as a lone striker have been my two best goalscoring seasons,” he added. “I am ready to take on that mantle and be the one who gets the goals for this team. If I play up there again this season, then I can get the goals. It is where I like and it is where I will play.”
An alternate analysis, of course, is that in 13 seasons as a professional Rooney has only twice scored more than 20 league goals in a campaign: 2009/10 and 2011/12. Even with the caveat of being deployed in multiple, mostly attacking, roles during his career, Van Gaal’s demand bucks the tide of history. It also places far too many of United’s hopes in one player’s hands. Or feet.
Of course, two games into the season, there is much to mitigate short-term criticism, if not the longer-term analysis. Rooney has traditionally taken some time – as many as 10 games – to reach true match fitness. Rooney has also tended to score in bursts before dropping back into a patch of poor form. The sharpness may come, followed by purple patch in the autumn, and then another stint of mediocrity.
There is an alternative, of course: to move on from Rooney, whatever his profile, outsized pay-packet and “special privileges.” And with the club seemingly not ready to acquire a top-class striker before 1 September that alternative can only be found in a change of tactics or of personnel.
Van Gaal has sought out neither just yet.
In fact Dutchman’s caution has come to the fore, with two holding players deployed in central midfield in each of United’s six games since the summer break. Meanwhile, the trio of attacking players used in support of Rooney has, in each match, included at least one player outwit his preferred role.
Last Saturday Ashley Young and Juan Mata were joined by debutant Memphis, who started in a central role. On Friday Mata – wide right – and Memphis played either side of Adnan Januzaj at number 10.
Yet, the decision to use two holding, together with the jumble of attacking players, and Rooney’s ponderous performances, have lent a stilted feel to the Reds’ attack. And just three shots on target and two goals in the opening games.
It leaves open the question of whether United’s verve might return both with Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger restored to the side, Mata deployed more centrally and – bolder still – Rooney benched. One of Januzaj, James Wilson or Javier Hernández could hardly do worse in a striking role; Herrera would add a zip so far absent to United’s passing; Schweinsteiger genuine authority in attacking and defensive phases.
Van Gaal has signalled few, if any, positive attacking changes though. Quite the opposite, with Januzaj’s position at risk, despite a goalscoring game on Friday. Van Gaal’s search for control through possession continues; Januzaj’s flair perhaps a risk too far for the Dutchman whose early career flair has given way to a more pragmatic approach.
“I like a second striker in that position more than a third midfielder,” said Van Gaal of Januzaj’s selection. “That is why, for example, Herrera is not playing. But we have to show more ball capacity. We had too many unnecessary losses of possession as a team and Adnan Januzaj had unnecessary ball losses.”
Three, in fact. Far less than Rooney. But then the Belgian youngster holds none of Rooney’s sway over the coach. Whether Rooney can deliver on Van Gaal’s promise remains in doubt.
So many riches earned, so little return delivered. Manchester United’s three premier strikers – Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao – cost the club some £60 million in transfer and loan fees combined. Old Trafford’s bean counters will add £43 million to that bill in the now very unlikely event that the Colombian signs permanently next summer. Factor in £830,000 per week – or more than £40 million per season – the club spends on wages between to the lavishly paid trio and United continues to make a stupendous outlay for a hugely disappointing campaign.
The raw numbers tell at least part of story behind United’s failed attack this season. Van Persie has 10 goals and two assists in 26 appearances across all competitions; Rooney nine and four in 25; and Falcao four and four in 19. If United’s ever-changing tactical shape is of little help to the trio, then nor does any lay claim to personal excellence either. The Englishman’s shot accuracy, for example, is just 50 per cent this season, with Van Persie only three percentage points better and Falcao accurate from 63 per cent of shots taken. None compares favourably to Premier League top goalscorer Diego Costa, who has 17 league goals at a 71 per cent shooting accuracy.
Dig a little deeper and the trio has contributed too little to United’s attack beyond the combined 23 goals and 10 assists this season. Rooney has created a touch over 30 chances over the campaign, with the Englishman most frequently deployed at ’10’ or in an attacking central midfield role. It reflects even more poorly on Rooney that the 29-year-old fails to make the top 20 best passers by accuracy at United let alone in the country.
Van Persie and Falcao fare no better on the creative front. The Dutchman has fostered 23 opportunities this season and Falcao just 13. Neither is heavily involved in United’s build-up either – Van Persie averages just over 20 passes per game; Falcao less than that.
Beyond the numbers neither Van Persie and Falcao, nor Saturday’s pairing of the Dutchman and Rooney, have developed any real understanding. Rooney passed to Van Persie just six times during United’s 2-1 defeat in Wales; the former Arsenal forward returned the compliment on three occasions. Nine passes from a total of 581 United made on the day. It was just seven in total between Falcao and Van Persie when United beat Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford last week. None of it speaks well of three supposedly world-class forwards that form the backbone of United’s broken strikeforce.
Of the trio only Rooney is guaranteed a place at the club next season – and that has far less to do with the Englishman’s performances over the past eight months than his perpetual status at the club. As a striker the Englishman’s output has declined in recent seasons. The former Evertonian scored 19 and made 17 assists under David Moyes; it was 16 and 13 two years ago; and 35 and five when Rooney was deployed up-front for the campaign in 2011/12.
In midfield Rooney has routinely disappointed, in part with average distribution, but mostly with an apparent inability to adapt to the ebb and flow of United’s game. It is not often, if ever, that United’s third highest record goalscorer controls a match from the centre of the park, with the player demonstrating an unnerving ability to resort to the ‘Hollywood Ball’ when in possession. It is an observation that is all-the-more frustrating for Ander Herrera’s frequent exclusion this season.
Van Persie, meanwhile, is in the midst of a 18-month-long slump. There was a short period over Christmas, a mini burst if you will, when the Dutchman scored five in four games. There have been just two goals in the past nine matches; one of those a penalty.
Indeed, the Dutchman’s performance in south Wales ranks among his least effective for the club. Of Van Persie’s seven attempts at goal only one hit the target, while the striker touched the ball on just 23 further occasions. The evidence suggests a permanent decline even if Van Persie recovers quickly from an ankle injury suffered at the Liberty Stadium.
Then there is Falcao. The Colombian remains a striker of rare pedigree, but one who is fundamentally struggling to recover from a second knee injury of the most devastating kind. Few begrudge the Colombian a little time in a season that has itself been disrupted by less serious injury, but eight months into a year-long loan at the club there is scant evidence that Falcao is the player of lore.
It is not even as if the 29-year-old’s goals this season – all four of them – have come against top class opposition either: Falcao scored against Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Leicester City. His omission from Saturday’s line-up may well be the precursor to more frequent exclusion as the season winds down. The performances hardly merite special treatment. And whatever agent Jorge Mendes’ proclamation to the contrary, few of Europe’s top clubs will be prepared to pay the €55 million fee Monaco is seeking for the forward next summer.
Little wonder United ranks just fourth in the Premier League for goals scored this season despite the lavish expenditure on a clutch of strikers. It is, after all, some 12 goals behind rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. These are striking numbers.
Indeed, United’s failure at Swansea City on Saturday can be attributed, in part at least, to the profligacy of the team’s forward line. Van Gaal was moved to declare United unlucky in defeat, with the Reds securing a healthy proportion of possession, while the team created 18 chances. Perhaps the key statistic is this however: the visitors managed just three shots on target. It is the story of the season rather than a one-off observation. United ranks just eighth in the Premier League for shots-per-game and seventh for shots-on-target.
Yet, with a nod to those who have an eye for defending United’s errant forwards, Van Gaal’s team ranks just eighth in key-passes-per game, ninth in dribbles-per-game and 16th in fouls-against-per-game. If the forward line is under-performing then there is little attacking foundation elsewhere in the team. Angel di Maria suffered yet another anonymous game at the Liberty Stadium, while fellow creative talents Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj started the game on the bench.
Yet, while United enjoyed a positive spell for 30 minutes after the break, and possession translated into chances created, none were taken. And when it came to the crux, with the Reds chasing an equaliser deep into the game, Van Gaal’s men resorted to agricultural tactics rather than trusting that creative talent might fashion a chance. The Reds launched 50 long passes forward against Swansea – 12 of them coming after Bafétimbi Gomis scored Swansea’s second. It was truly desperate stuff.
Crucially, in the short-term there is little sign that either Falcao or Van Persie will hit a run of form. If may well cost United a place in the Champions League next season. Neither is likely to benefit if United’s Dutch manager continues to rely on the long ball.
Over the longer piece few will brook argument with the observation that Van Gaal should enter the market for one, if not more, new strikers next summer.
That one second that changes everything. The sudden rush of ecstasy. The complete loss of inhibition. The wild celebrations. There is no better feeling than a stoppage time goal.
The Art of Football’s crafted designs emulate the beauty of those moments never forgotten, capturing the energy, passion and euphoria that erupts from that one magical goal. Limited in number, each design, like any good piece of art, is completely original.
Rant has two T-Shirts to give away in this week’s competition. First prize is “All Hail the King” – a moment of Eric Cantona beauty. Second prize is “Winning in Style” – Wayne Rooney’s last minute overhead against Manchester City.
To win tell us about your favourite Manchester United moment. Comment below or on Twitter (@unitedrant #rantcast) to enter. The best answer, as chosen by Rant Cast presenters Ed & Paul, gets the Cantona T. Competition closes Saturday 22 November, 12 noon.
The Art of Football Manchester United collection can be found here.