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End of Man Utd era? Why Rooney's biggest fans must ask this tough question...

COMMENT: Wayne Rooney does enjoy his boxing. But it's fair to say he wouldn't have enjoyed this week's one-two...

The first blow came on Wednesday, as Jose Mourinho announced his captain's omission for Manchester United's tour party to Rotterdam. Paul Pogba was there. As was Zlatan, David de Gea and Eric Bailly. But Rooney would not be traveling. The manager insisted it was simply a decision made with Sunday's trip to Watford in mind. But if that was the case, why was Ibrahimovic in the squad? And Marouane Fellaini?

The second blow came in that same 24 hours, as The Sun ran a headline story of United seriously considering Rooney's sale next summer. The skipper had spoken of retiring at United, hinting that he'd welcome new contract talks. But Thursday's backpage suggested the opposite was being felt inside the boardroom. That rather sit down with Paul Stretford and iron out a final big payday for Rooney, the opinion was next summer would be the club's last best chance of landing a decent fee for the 30 year-old.

Mere press speculation? Perhaps. But it's some coincidence that two such events, almost out of the blue, could befall Rooney in the space of 24 hours.

Adding fuel to the situation was news that Mourinho has doubts about Rooney's fitness. And the real reason for leaving him at Carrington was so he could put in some extra work with Carlos Lalin.

Hang on. Wait a minute. Are we saying Mourinho is questioning Rooney's application? His professionalism? No. But we can argue that standards have shifted this season at United. Two defeats in a week would suggest otherwise, we know. But there's a greater expectation amongst the staff now at Old Trafford. Even greater than that seen under Sir Alex Ferguson.

We in the Rooney camp can no longer use his age as an excuse. Not when you have big Zlatan, five years his senior, breaking every fitness record ever created at Carrington. That's the standard now. And for the captain. For the highest paid player at the club. It has to be asked why Rooney can't get close to the same levels as the Swede. Indeed, as an aside, what have United's young players been doing all these years to be shown up by a bloke ten, fifteen years their senior?

But this is about Rooney. And the thoughts of his manager. Is it really so out of order that Mourinho should question Rooney's fitness when he shares the same locker room as Zlatan?

It must be noted, when Mourinho discussed Marcus Rashford's role as a striker, the manager spoke openly about the England international playing upfront on his own, or as a partner for Zlatan. Significantly, there was no mention of Rooney in his deliberation...

And then there's those inside the boardroom. The same lot whom approved his £300,000-a-week wedge two-and-a-half years ago. That deal is up for renewal in 2018. And quite rightly, questions are being asked amongst the directors if the club is getting value for money.

Again, the tough question has to be asked of us in Rooney's corner: is he playing like a £300,000-a-week player?

Yes, we can argue he has been United's most consistent since he penned that deal in February 2014. Sometimes United's best. But this the question we all must ask ourselves: When was the last time Rooney was man of the match - either for club or country?

No, we're not talking about United's best. Nor England's outstanding performer. We have to ask, when was the last time Rooney turned in a matchwinning full 90? If you have an answer, let us know below because we're drawing a blank.

He's been good for United this season. He has been top three for England for as long as we can remember. But when was the last time he was the outstanding player on the pitch? And on a winning side?

These are the questions now being pondered inside the Old Trafford boardroom. How can you justify having a player not only the club's highest paid, but among the highest in the game, when he isn't decisive?

And this is what the past week has been all about. The sale talk wasn't plucked out of the air. It was a strategic leak. As was the Feyenoord omission and the news of fitness concerns. Mourinho feels there's more to come from Rooney. Another 5-10%. But he needs to change. He hasn't been coasting. But demands at the club have increased. And he needs to tweak what he's been doing to meet the expectations of his manager.

With new staff in place. And new teammates inside the locker room. It's not going to be enough for Rooney to be... well, Wayne Rooney.

The message came in a quick one-two this week, but Rooney, the fighter that he is, still has it in him to avoid the knockout blow.


INJURY TIME

So Jose Mourinho has to solve how best to utilise Paul Pogba? Whether Wayne Rooney can still cut in his XI? And the dilemma of his whizkids, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial..?

But what about ol' Henrikh?

If there was one player who fought and scrapped to get himself to Old Trafford, it was Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At the end of last season, the world was his oyster. Playing in midfield for Borussia Dortmund. As a No10. He hit 23 goals. 23! The Armenian also was the Bundesliga's leader in assists with15 and he walked away with the Players' Player of the Year gong.

He could've had Mino Raiola place him at virtually any club in Europe. Yet he chose Mourinho and United.

At 27, Mkhitaryan signed to play. And he should be playing. Those stats last season weren't earned in the Sunday leagues. It was the Bundesliga. Okay, the lad's currently injured, but Mourinho is robbing himself every week he fails to find a way of getting Henrikh into his XI.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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