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If Rooney leaves Everton for MLS, he needs to drop the midfield act and return to his number 10 role

If Rooney leaves Everton for MLS, he needs to drop the midfield act and return to his number 10 role

Rooney has flirted with a deeper midfield role for many years, and it has barely ever worked. Time to return to the attack and reap the benefits.

GARETH Southgate has a plan at least. That might seem a curiously obvious prerequisite for an international manager, but there was scant evidence of strategy when England last ventured into a major tournament.

Think back two years to Roy Hodgson’s fudged and uncharacteristically panicked last-minute decision to squeeze Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney into the same line-up by deploying the latter as a quarterback central midfielder. Regardless of what Russia holds for Southgate’s side, the current England boss at least knows what he is trying to achieve - earmarking his starting XI and formation long before the qualification campaign had concluded.

Rooney’s remit at Euro 2016, to deliver raking crossfield passes from deep, was not the first time he had found himself confined to the middle of the park. There had been sporadic appearances there for Manchester United and the Scouser long ago admitted that he half-expected to finish his career in that role.

But despite struggling to convince as Hodgson’s makeshift playmaker, both Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce were to use the former England captain as a holding player over the subsequent two years. It’s rarely convinced. For a goalscorer of such pedigree, he’s predictably appeared stifled.

Rooney’s return to Everton, overall, has been something of a positional roulette. Ronald Koeman never seemed sure whether to use the 32-year-old as an out-and-out frontman to replace the departed Romelu Lukaku or field him as one of three number 10s, which never quite added up.

If Rooney’s trans-Atlantic venture to DC United becomes a reality when the MLS transfer window opens in July, then the constant tinkering needs to end. To avoid the same fate of the ageing high-profile stars who tried and failed to crack America - such as Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and his good friend Steven Gerrard - Rooney needs to go back to playing as a 10 and stick there.

Although his stamina levels may be withering with age, Rooney still possesses the asset which has seen him plunder more than 300 career goals - supreme footballing intelligence. Look around MLS and the stand-out figures boasting similar cuteness generally operate as a shadow striker.

Toronto’s Giovinco has netted 57 in 92 games, Clint Dempsey has 49 in 94 for the Seattle Sounders and ex-Arsenal man Carlos Vela has begun the season with six in 10 for MLS new boys LAFC. All boast that knack of finding space in front of the back four, picking a pass in behind the full-back and arriving late into the box to get on the scoresheet - traits which Rooney has made such a decorated career from. He just wouldn’t get those opportunities as frequently in midfield.

If he signs (particularly after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Stateside move) Rooney would instantly reinvigorate those old cliches about MLS being a retirement league. But nowadays, the competition is flooded with young, hungry imports from South and Central America. They’re happy to harass and kick opposition midfielders, and would make his impact negligible in the middle of the park.

It does appear as if DC United are intent on using Rooney up front after they have been casting covetous eyes over fellow strikers Javier Hernandez, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli.

Yet the danger if he was used as an out-and-out centre-forward, is that he would be starved of service. DC United are far from one of MLS’ leading lights and Rooney needs to see enough of the ball to sufficiently influence games. There is unlikely to be anything like the supply line that prolific frontmen Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa enjoy for the respective New York clubs.

This is a team that finished bottom of the Eastern Conference last year and again occupy that position after the opening two months of this season. Rooney’s potential signing would very much mark the reigniting of a club that enjoyed its most successful era during the 1990s.

There has been a make-do-and-mend element to the squad over the last couple of years, while investment was directed towards the new $400million Audi Field stadium. That facility is due to open in July, with Rooney obviously pinpointed as the perfect face to launch a new era.

The possibility of Rooney becoming the latest MLS poster boy is priceless in terms of publicity and glamour, and DC United are ready to make him the league’s best-paid player as a consequence. If they are willing to spend that much, then England’s record scorer needs to make sure he’s operating in his most effective position.






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Chris Young
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