Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney sits in a very precarious position ahead of the FA Community Shield which officially marks the start of the 2015-16 season.
While the match against reigning Premier League champions Leicester City will merely be a dress rehearsal for last season’s FA Cup winners and Jose Mourinho, it should provide more insight into how Rooney will fit into the starting line-up under the new manager.
Rooney lined up in central midfield during England’s ill-fated run under Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016, and Mourinho immediately dismissed the possibility of repeating the same set-up after he was announced as United boss.
"One thing that will never change is his (Rooney) natural appetite to put the ball in the net. Maybe he is not a striker, not a No 9 anymore. But with me he will never be a No 6, playing 50m from goal. Yes, his passing is amazing but mine is also amazing without pressure. Many players have a great pass, but to put the ball in the net is the most difficult. He will be a No 9, a No 10, a No 9.5, but never a No 6 or a No 8," Mourinho had said in the start of July when asked about Rooney’s ideal position.
When playing pre-season friendly matches and tournaments, Rooney was seen lining up in a No 10 role, and in fact, having scored twice against Galatasaray while playing in the position, Rooney announced that he was due to perform the same role in the upcoming season.
“The manager has already told you and he's told me I will be a No 10 and when I play in that position I know I will score goals,” Rooney said after United had beaten Galatasaray 5-2 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic opening his account for the Manchester club with an acrobatic strike.
Ibrahimovic is the key to Rooney’s position. The big Swede is most definitely an out-and-out striker with little to offer in other areas of the pitch which forces Rooney out of the forward line.
"I said many years ago the perfect partner for a striker is Wayne Rooney. He works not only for himself but for the striker and the whole team,” Ibrahimovic had said prior to Rooney’s testimonial in summing up the captain’s role as a No 10.
For the testimonial match as well, Rooney played 53 minutes in the No 10 role and created two chances for Ibrahimovic before being replaced by Marcus Rashford.
The teenager is another player keeping Rooney off the list of forwards, as are Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, if United are to stay true to their formation that utilises a five-man midfield with a single striker.
Interestingly, the Armenian can also function in central midfield because he is a creative player and although he claimed his price tag does not guarantee a start, he probably won’t be wasted in the prime of his career by being forced to spend a lot of time on the bench. Mkhitaryan may just force Rooney out of the starting line-up if the performances don’t match the stature of the armband.
Juan Mata is another player perfectly suited for the No 10 role but given his history with Mourinho may not feature a lot for the Red Devils.
Should United sign Paul Pogba in a world record transfer, it will be expected that he should start every match in an advanced midfield role.
The only thing is: where will that leave Rooney in the starting line-up? Only time will tell.