The problems at Old Trafford continue with captain Wayne Rooney suspended for the next three games after wildly lashing out during Saturday’s crunch game with West Ham. Rooney received a straight red card for aiming a kick at Hammers winger Stewart Downing on the 60th minute mark, leaving referee Lee Mason little option but to send him off. As United captain, Rooney is expected to lead by example but instead his dismissal heaped further pressure on his already shaking teammates who have had a torrid start to the new campaign. United dug in and with the help of substitutes Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia hung on for a much needed 2-1 victory. After the game, United manager Louis Van Gaal admitted that it was a red card but refused to hang his captain out to dry, instead backing his captain to learn from this mistake. But questions must be asked over whether his decision to name Wayne Rooney as club captain was the right one?
After the departure of Vidic in the summer and retirement of Ryan Giggs, one of Van Gaal’s first tasks was to appoint a new club captain and vice captain. After much debate, Van Gaal opted for Rooney ahead of the other options Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. The decision was questioned at the time by the British media however Rooney’s first two games of the season appeared to show that he was growing into the role and had matured with the additional responsibility. But realistically Rooney had not changed and when his temper began to show in the matches against QPR and Leicester, everyone but Van Gaal could see that trouble was brewing. As the club captain, Rooney is meant to lead from the front, act as the cool head and inspire his teammates to greater things. Instead what we are seeing is Rooney arguing every single decision that goes against his team with the referee and more worryingly berating his own teammates for their inability to clear their lines. In the 5-3 away defeat to Leicester that saw the home side bounces back from 3-1 down to win the game, Rooney was caught shouting and pointing at youngster Tyler Blackett and new boy Daley Blind blasting them for not stopping a move that ended up with Leicester tying the game. However a closer look shows that the move started from a Rooney mistake further up the field. With the captain on their case and Leicester hungry for more goals, confidence drained from the team and United lost its composure. Two further goals were scored by Nigel Pearson’s men who walked away with a convincing three points.
Whilst Rooney is one of the more senior members of the squad, does he really have what it takes to be a leader on the field? The answer is no. Temperamental and easily wound up, Rooney is a liability on the pitch as United captain. Yes he has the ability to transform games but his aggressive stance and short fuse spell disaster. Van Gaal must have hoped that handing the England forward the arm band would calm him down and instill a greater sense of responsibility into him but instead all that has happened is heaped more pressure on Rooney, something he appears unable to cope with. That said Van Gaal must stick with him to avoid looking foolish in the early months of his tenure. Stripping him of the captaincy at this stage in the season is not an option as it will cause United further problems and destabilize his squad even more. Added into this the lack of replacement options hinders this with only Carrick, Fletcher and Van Persie realistic options. Van Gaal knows he must stick with his troubled captain and coach him better to manage the added pressure and contain his aggressive nature. Rooney will sit out the next three games giving him time to consider his approach to the captaincy. He would do well to look at past captains like Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and Nemanja Vidic for examples of how to behave on and off the field. Rooney will remain as the United captain for the foreseeable future but if he is unable to change his ways, it’s unlikely that he will continue to be so beyond this season.