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After a disappointing start to the campaign, this was Wayne Rooney’s big moment to prove that he is still a top striker. Granted it was “only” San Marino, but many had tipped the England captain to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton’s record in a fixture that is widely regarded as one of the easiest matches at international level.

While Rooney equalled Charlton’s long-standing record, he failed to surpass it. Worse than that, he failed to stand out against the 193rd best national team on the planet. He converted the penalty, which was awarded in rather fortuitous circumstances, with the confidence of a player on a red hot streak but that was Rooney’s only real contribution before he was substituted midway through the second half.

Manchester United fans have mixed views on their captain’s performances so far this season. Some have suggested that Louis van Gaal is to blame as Rooney should be deployed in the ‘number 10’ role, which is arguably his best position. Others believe that the 29-year-old, who has featured in England’s top flight on a regular basis in each of the last 14 seasons, is past his best and on the decline.

The jury remains out on Rooney this season; however the latter opinion could be closest to the truth. On average, the United striker has played over 50 matches a season since his Premier League debut – an incredible statistic. He has been an ever-present at Old Trafford whenever he has been fit and this phenomenal number of matches may finally have taken its toll on Rooney’s body, but also his mind.

It is absolutely essential for Premier League footballers to be confident in their own ability and Rooney has shown a number of signs throughout the early part of the campaign that he is not totally self-assured in possession. Although he has shown glimpses of brilliance, Rooney has been hesitant and extremely easy to defend against. He no longer has the legs to run in behind and stretch defences, which has been part of United’s wider problem this season.

There’s no doubt that Rooney is past his peak but he still has plenty to offer. However, both Van Gaal and Roy Hodgson must move him back slightly if they are to reap the rewards of Rooney’s talents. As he has aged, Rooney has matured and is now capable of controlling the final third of the field. To do that, however, he must be deployed in the ‘number 10’ position. United’s talisman has a wide range of skills but just isn’t an out-and-out striker anymore.

Rooney’s greatest attribute is now his leadership. The United captain is a born leader and is exceptional at organising his side, particularly in open play. Van Gaal likes his side to play in set formations, which some would argue restricts their natural talents, but Rooney has adapted well to the Dutchman’s philosophy and has a huge impact on United’s performances. His leadership skills will come in handy throughout the season but his individual efforts must improve if the Red Devils are to finish in the top four.

With regards to the San Marino performance, yes Rooney was a disappointment. He equalled Charlton’s record but ultimately, he produced yet another dismal effort in a fixture that he should have relished. Rooney may well go on to claim the record outright in England’s clash with Switzerland on Tuesday and United supporters will be desperate for their leading man to gain confidence ahead of a tough Premier League run.

Rooney certainly deserves a round of applause for his work over the years. Charlton’s record was impressive in its own right but Rooney could go on to extend it by at least another ten goals. However, that isn’t to say that the current Wayne Rooney is the same player as fifteen years ago. At 29, he’s hardly entering the final stages of his career but it is clear that he no longer possess the explosiveness to perform as an out-and-out forward. And if Van Gaal and Hodgson can’t see that, Rooney and England will be the unfortunate ones who suffer.

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