Playing Wayne Rooney in midfield “is an insult”, according to former Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince.
Rooney once more dropped deep away from the centre-forward position as England struggled to a 1-0 win over 10-man Slovakia last Sunday.
And ahead of Saturday’s Manchester derby, Ince has written off Rooney’s midfield abilities, insisting he would have “overrun” Rooney at the peak of his own powers.
“He is the greatest goalscorer for England and he’s only three goals shy of being the greatest goalscorer for Manchester United. So why do you want to play him anywhere else?” Ince asked.
“He has always been a clever player, but midfield is not about getting the ball and spraying it 40 yards out wide with a Hollywood pass. You have got to track people, you have got to tackle and you have got to win the battles in there.”
Ince was discussing Manchester United’s attacking prospects with former Liverpool midfielder Didi Hamann on the Paddy Power blog, with Ince suggesting Rooney would have struggled against the duo in the middle of the field.
“Rooney hasn’t got the mentality of a centre-midfield player to go up against the likes of Didi or myself. We would simply overrun him.”
Hamann believes there will be no fallback role for Rooney in Jose Mourinho’s midfield if he is deposed from his best position up front, after Marcus Rashford increased the pressure on his senior colleague with a hat-trick on England U21 duty.
“If anybody has the balls to drop Rooney, it will be Mourinho,” Hamann stated. “If Jose feels that somebody else does a better job in that position, he won’t hesitate.”
“He’s played as a centre forward all his life, so if he can’t do a job there anymore I don’t see any other position for him at Manchester United — or England for that matter.”
The pair have been much more impressed with Rooney’s United colleague Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has already endeared himself to the Old Trafford faithful with four goals in as many games.
And Hamann played down any concerns about the veteran’s lack of involvement during games.
“Manchester United players won’t get frustrated with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s lack of running. You don’t carry Zlatan. He carries you. You work for him and he will score goals for you.
“Zlatan can outmuscle people, he can score with his head, he can shoot from range and he can still do a massive job. He scored an incredible amount of goals in France and that’s usually considered a defensive league. Imagine what he will do in the Premier League!”
Ince believes the Swede’s famed self-confidence is a necessity to thrive at such a big club but acknowledges Mourinho must manage the 34-year old’s ego.
“I think when you play with Man United you’ve got to have an ego.” Ince said. “It’s how the gaffer controls those egos in the dressing room that’s important. The challenge is channelling all that self-belief and making it work for the team.
“In today’s game you don’t have that many egos, but Wayne Rooney and ‘Zlats’ certainly do, and it’s up to Mourinho to manage them. Especially as Jose has an ego of his own.
Ince expects both Ibrahimovic and Rooney to start against City. “The only problem with the two working as a pair is they’ve got a tendency to both want to come towards the ball. Mourinho has always looked at Zlatan playing up top, ahead of Rooney and that’s how I think they’ll start in Saturday’s derby.”
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