Former Manchester United and England defender Paul Parker has offered up some tough love to Wayne Rooney as the forward seeks to re-establish himself as the main man at Old Trafford.
“This is a defining season for Rooney. It’s no longer about him breaking records but finishing his career at Manchester United. He needs to show his worth and that he deserves to be in the team and not just because of marketing.”
“As much as people appreciate what he’s done over the years and how many goals he’s scored football is about now and being judged on now. If someone had only heard of Wayne Rooney but seen him now they’d think ‘Who is this fella? He’s overweight and slow. That shot was terrible, and it looks like he can’t move or shift his body quick enough.’”
The two-time Premier League winner turned successful pundit has similar strong views on United’s recent record signing Paul Pogba and while the rest of the world remains in shock and awe at the astonishing fee Parker goes significantly further, airing doubts on even his suitability for the Reds.
“With Pogba you do wonder when you look at his style of play for Juventus can he play that way for Manchester United? If he plays behind Ibrahimovic that puts Wayne Rooney in doubt and Rooney has to play – not that he deserves a place, but they have to play him. So it’s a difficult situation.”
“Can he be as good as Roy Keane or Bryan Robson? I wonder about him playing that midfield role. I worry about him making tackles and getting across to close players down because he is rangy. He doesn’t have quick feet, and his game is about going to ground. That’s going to be a problem. In a holding position, it would be a waste because he’s not a Makelele or even a John Obi Mikel.”
“Pogba can get forward, and score goals, and pass the ball but in a high-tempo game, he won’t be very good in a deep role. We saw that in the Euros where he looked lost for long periods of games when France didn’t have the ball. So when United don’t have the ball what’s he going to be like?”
With the expensive addition of Pogba and the legend that is Zlatan leading the line this is unquestionably a new and potentially exciting era for United and the four major signings, this summer has been met with widespread enthusiasm among supporters. Parker, however, believes it would be catastrophic to put away the chequebook at this point.
“They still need a forward and a centre-half and another midfield player. Manchester United aren’t finished yet; they can’t be because that present squad just isn’t going to win the league and Mourinho is all about winning the league.”
“Would you say United can even finish top four after what we saw in the Bournemouth game? I’d have to say not really. Liverpool look good and Arsenal will improve. Tottenham and Chelsea are hard to break down and will be in there. So United have some work to do between now and the end of August to bring in at least three players to guarantee a Champions League spot and maybe win the league.”
Mention of Mourinho inevitably leads to a discussion on the new scowling presence set to patrol the Old Trafford technical area; an appointment Parker has been critical of since it was announced last May.
“It comes down to how he handles situations with individual players because he’s all about people who love Mourinho and if you don’t show him what he wants that is you gone. All he wants from his players is that they love him.”
“If you work with someone you may not like him but if he’s doing a good job for you then you stick with him. With Mourinho, it doesn’t work that way and therein lies the problem. That’s why Schweinsteiger has been pushed away. With Mata there seems to be a reprieve, but I’m sure Mata hasn’t been fooled by that after starting against Bournemouth.”
“For Mourinho to be at the sharp end of Manchester United that’s a concern for me because he is saying that he has changed, but he said that at the start of his second spell at Chelsea. We saw what happened twelve months later.”
It should be noted that even fans of the self-proclaimed Special One have been critical of his alienation of Bastian Schweinsteiger since taking charge at the club, a snubbing that seems all the more brutal when dished out to a World Cup winner. Parker is clearly disgusted by it and after serving five years under arguably the most no-nonsense gaffer of them all has a pertinent comparison to draw upon.
“There is no way Sir Alex would have handled the Schweinsteiger affair like Mourinho has done. He would be told he can leave but would have treated him with respect and still involved him in first team training as long as he had the right professional attitude. Mourinho never gave Schweinsteiger the opportunity to be professional about the situation.”
It is perhaps not unexpected that Jose has chosen to make his mark on a new club by taking down one of its big names – this is, after all, a man who lives and dies by the laws of the jungle – but unseemly player disputes aside, how does Parker feel about Mourinho’s ability to turn around a club and squad that appears to have lost its identity in recent times?
“Every team has an identity and a certain style of playing. Even Liverpool under Klopp still have some of that football they had in the 1980s. United lost that under Van Gaal and I don’t think they can retain it under Mourinho. It’s sluggish and slow with no pace in the team that shows when they’re attacking. The ball isn’t shifted around quick enough. Mata isn’t being used as a focal point and instead it comes to Rooney who controls, looks and passes.”