Paul Parker

RVP miles off base, Rooney’s role a bad joke: nothing can save United

Paul Parker

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I've never seen anything like it. Manchester United's capitulation against Liverpool on Sunday was just beyond belief.

Okay, so you can point out the fact that Liverpool had much better form going into the game, but what shocked me so much was the utter lack of guts shown by any of the United players because the one thing I thought you could always count would be that they'd put up a big fight. They didn't, and that's what worries me most.

There was never a moment when you thought they'd score a goal. They weren't even knocking on the door - or if they were, they were certainly wearing thick gloves to muffle the sound. I have no doubt that most of the Liverpool players will have walked off the pitch shocked at what they'd just come up against.

And now they've had only three days to prepare for a critical Champions League match right off the back of a huge defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals - a match in which they have to score at least two goals and not concede, just to take it as far as extra time.

But where are those goals going to come from? And how is that defence going to avoid conceding, when they've looked like letting one in, in every game this season?

David De Gea has been outstanding all season - a 100 per cent turnaround from last year - but everywhere else you look in the team there are problems. Robin van Persie is miles off base right now for starters; Adnan Januzaj looked completely ineffective; and of the defence, only Nemanja Vidic came off the pitch with any credit on Sunday - and he got sent off!

Right at the heart of all those problems, though, is Wayne Rooney. I just don't understand what he's doing - why is he trying to be a number 10? He's simply not good in that role.

The best number 10s in the game - Oscar, Juan Mata, David Silva, even Shinji Kagawa back when he wore Dortmund colours - are always a threat, even when they're having an off day, since they are able to provide a moment of creativity that can turn a game around.

I don't see natural creativity in Rooney. I see blood and thunder, I see strength, I see bulldozing runs from deep positions. But I don't see creativity, or mixing a game up the way players genuinely born to play that role do.

Years ago I remember asking young footballers coming through the ranks, "Where do you want to play?"

They'd always say, "in the hole," but let's make one thing clear: what they were really saying is that they don't want to run around, they just want to do something clever when someone gives the ball to their feet.

And that's how Rooney is playing the role: he's a number 10, but the British equivalent, not what we see from guys like Oscar, or even the Argentine Alejandro Dominguez who played that role brilliantly for Olympiacos in the first leg.

Dominguez's brilliance - and he was the best player on the park in the first match - says it all. In the past - and with no disrespect intended to Olympiacos - you'd have expected United to turn around this sort of first-leg deficit quite comfortably. If Fergie was still in charge you'd have no worries about their ability to bang a few in and keep it tight at the back at Old Trafford.

But not this time. United are coming up against a team who out-ran, out-passed and out-thought them first time round. What hope do they have?

Every United team has lost matches, of course, but the club has always been performance-orientated: it's obvious that results matter, but the quality of your performance matters too - because then, if you lose a big game, you can at least walk off the pitch knowing that you played well. And next time you go out there, that belief helps you turn things round.

United's players won't have that luxury on Wednesday night, and I honestly don't know what David Moyes can say to them now to try and turn things round. Not that I think it's his fault. Any manager would have run into the same problems, because it seems to me that a lot of the United players are there saying, 'right, Sir Alex has gone now, so I can relax and take my foot off the gas a bit.'

Some people have suggested that Jose Mourinho would have got more from this group of players, but I couldn't disagree more; in fact, the only difference if Mourinho had got the job is that the club would be in turmoil off the pitch as well, given his obsession with making everything about him and insisting on dictating terms to everyone from the board downwards.

As far as I can see the only mistake Moyes has made is with his coaching staff, where he thought that replicating a system that worked well for him at Everton would pay off at United.

But if you're working at Debenhams, you don't take a new job at Harrods and expect the same things to work. Which of his senior players will take Phil Neville seriously on the training ground? And Ryan Giggs, too - he needed time to go and learn the coaching craft elsewhere. Moyes may have talented guys there, but I bet he wishes he still had Mike Phelan or Rene Meulensteen on board to help handle the players. And they'd also have been a lot more use to him than Phil Neville when he needs someone as a sounding board in a crisis like this one.

Instead, Moyes is tasked with managing a team utterly shorn of belief. They've been terrible for much of the season, and they're going into this match off the back of an abysmal performance that led to a demoralising defeat. I'd love to believe that they could turn it around on Wednesday - but I just don't see it happening.

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