Wayne Rooney no longer playing second fiddle as he conducts orchestra again

Van Persie was tipped to shine under Van Gaal but England striker is main man

Quite apart from the jaw-dropping audacity of the goal, and the electric charge it gave the World Cup on day two in Brazil last summer as the Netherlands began to demolish Spain, there was unmissable significance for anyone of a Manchester United persuasion when Robin van Persie took off to score his diving header.

Here was a gift to all the amateur body language experts out there. What did Van Persie do next? What was his immediate reaction to this euphoric moment? He sprinted half the length of the pitch, making an unstoppable beeline towards his manager. Louis van Gaal beamed in wait for the joyous high five. It did not require much imagination at that point to observe the mutual regard between player and manager (Van Gaal had appointed Van Persie as the Dutch captain) and come to the conclusion that the connection would be a foundation stone for what Van Gaal hoped to do at Old Trafford.

With Van Gaal's force of personality walking through the door in Manchester, and the deep roots of his rapport with Van Persie already in place, the Wayne Rooney question was always going to be an interesting one. A wager at that time about which of the United forwards might be the most prominent this season would probably have favoured Van Persie over Rooney. So much for probability.

Central figure

Whereas Rooney has become a central figure in the United team redesigned by Van Gaal, it is Van Persie who must now be wondering quite where he fits into United’s gameplan. With his contract soon to tilt into its final year, and his 32nd birthday approaching this summer, his future is uncertain.


Rooney is a player who thrives on being the main man. That provides the platform for this muscular bundle of attacking determination to strut his best stuff. During his 11 years at Manchester United there have been spells on the periphery, skirting behind or to the side of his favoured role on centre stage. He can play the part of the support man, pinging passes to another striker. He has served his time glancing over from wide or deep to see someone else wearing the man-of-the-moment mantle (or at the very least sharing it). But for him, there has never been much comparison between second fiddle and lead guitar.

Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dimitar Berbatov, Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Persie – Rooney doesn't give the impression he cherishes anybody's shade. At his most frustrated he has angled (politically in any case) for transfers. Occasionally he has challenged his manager. Who could forget how he became a peculiar sideshow to Alex Ferguson's farewell match, a brooding figure left out of the squad and watching from an executive box after Ferguson took a dim view of Rooney supposedly wanting out?

Ultimately, though, he has an astonishing capacity to push his way back to the fulcrum.

New chapter

Back in August, in pre-season, with the United captaincy up for grabs following the departure of Nemanja Vidic, Van Persie was a clear contender having responded so well to the job under Van Gaal for his country. With Manchester United bringing in

Radamel Falcao

and Ángel Di María to increase competition for the attacking berths, it was only natural to wonder how Rooney might be feeling about this new chapter.

It was a clever move of Van Gaal's to award the captaincy to Rooney. "Wayne has shown a great attitude to everything he does," enthused Van Gaal by way of explanation. In the same month Roy Hodgson trusted Rooney with the armband for England. Both managers have since praised his new sense of maturity.

Rooney comes out of this transitional season in credit. He has sacrificed his preferred game at times, and has once again become fundamental as the colour has returned to United. Inspiring form, goals and leadership have grown in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Van Persie is left wondering what becomes of his United status. This season has not been a particularly happy one for the Dutchman. Post-World Cup fatigue, niggly fitness and form, and the tricky period of experimentation at United during Van Gaal’s first few months decreased his effectiveness. He has been out injured for the past two months.

Now more or less ready to challenge for a recall, it is by no means a certainty he will walk back into a United team who have found their balance and sense of collective purpose.

Goal-wise, Rooney and Van Persie remain on a similar scale in the Premier League this term (Rooney has 12 from 28 appearances and Van Persie 10 from 24), but the Dutchman may find that only limited opportunities knock for him during the final six games of the season.

Cause damage

His sights may be set on a return to the position of his youth, playing off the main striker, but

Marouane Fellaini

has pressed a convincing case to cause damage from that area lately, and the crafted technique of

Juan Mata

has become a smart weapon.

When Van Persie joined United in 2012, and enjoyed an explosive season that culminated in a gorgeous volley to effectively secure the league title, Rooney was shunted into the Dutchman’s shadows and looked grumpy. But it shouldn’t be lost that it was Rooney’s spectacular pass that created that Van Persie goal against Aston Villa.

But this street-fighting footballer has worked his way back to the forefront of United’s ambitions. Guardian Service