It is Robin van Persie who is receiving the plaudits, as it is when one player scores as many as the Dutchman has so far this season for Manchester United. Yet it is the player his arrival was meant to put pressure on who has thrived arguably more in partnership with the former Arsenal man.
Rooney dominated proceedings for United against Arsenal at the weekend, orchestrating the home team’s play with a scintillating show of his passing range. This is one of the most intriguing aspects of United’s early season form. Rooney has been transformed into something of a trequartista, picking the ball up and spraying it out wide or into van Persie. He has shown an ability to carve open defences and make the play as well as finish it.
Key to this is that he is playing in a deeper role, helped by the fact that van Persie is there to take the goalscoring burden off him. Previously, Rooney was leading the line, performing a centre forward’s role and finishing chances for his team as their main goal threat. Now he is able to drop back, become more involved in build up play and show off his more creative skills. It has brought out the best in him. United, as a result, have gained a something that they have lacked in recent years – a playmaker. Not a deep lying playmaker such as Paul Scholes, but one who will play between the lines of midfield and attack and find wingers making forward runs, thereby stretching the play.
It is a role he is well suited to. Rooney has the intelligence and skill to perform in this position, and has linked up superbly well with Tom Cleverley so far this season. His performances in that role have been critical to United's superb 3-0 win at Newcastle, and he dominated proceedings against Arsenal. His combination with Cleverley, along with Michael Carrick operating deeper, forms a central trident which is adept at retaining possession and dominating matches.
It is a change that Roy Hodgson will note with interest, as he ponders how to construct his England team. A side based around the midfield qualities of Rooney, Cleverley and Saturday’s opponent Jack Wilshere is a tantalising one for a country who have for so often struggled to keep possession.
Transferring club form to international duty has not always been so easy for Rooney, whose career has not reached the heights many expected. But it is clear already this season that the arrival of van Persie has revitalised the former Everton man and given Rooney the tactical freedom that is getting the best out of him.