Saturday was the breaking point, and Manchester United clearly benefited from his absence. Thank God it did, or we may not have heard the end of pointless pontification on the subject.Gary Neville pointed out in the build up to the Leicester game that the break will allow Wayne Rooney to regroup and re-immerge as a player who can contribute for years to come. His future contributions will have to be less domineering than his early performances this season. We also referenced this need for Rooney to reinvent in our previous article weeks ago.
We tell you this not to blow smoke up our own back sides, but to merely point out that a less reactionary approach to the game will lead you to far more sensible conclusions. This is the reason we started Thoughtful Football.
What is far harder to predict is whether Rooney will reinvent himself like a Ryan Giggs, Scholes or Gerrard. This will be down to his personality. It’ll depend on whether he wants to remain at the top in some capacity, or play a more dominant role in a lesser league (aka MLS). It’s far harder to predict because we don’t know Wayne personally. We’d be second guessing his character and that wouldn’t be fair.
A second example the Thoughtful Football approach in full motion are the two Paul Pogba articles that we’ve published. The first explaining that regardless of his performances on the pitch, that he is worth every penny. His shirt sales, and brand equity alone make the monetary argument redundant. He is basically a free transfer.
Our second article focused more on his footballing ability. Write off Pogba at your Peril is an example of how Thoughtful Football fights against the wave of reactionary punditry. Pogba hadn’t played well, Pundits and journalists were writing him off, only to be made to eat their words following his performance against Leicester. Just be a little more considered.Pogba clearly benefited from the presence of dynamic but educated footballers who were able to quickly fill the spaces he vacated. Sadly for Rooney, he also benefited from the captains absence. It allowed Pogba to be the Roy of the Rovers for the team, a role which he is far more capable of carrying out due to his athleticism.
It’ll be interesting to see if Mourinho sticks with that side against a tougher opposition. Or how Herrera, Pogba and Mata would fair against a midfield three rather than a two. My feeling is they still miss a defensively minded midfield specialist. Another point made in a previous Pogba post and reiterated by Gary Neville in the Daily Mail this week.
Finally we get to the title of this article. It’s something we’ve missed in the midst of the Rooney saga. Zlatan Ibrahimovich gave his most impressive performance without Rooney and without needing to score a goal. He dropped deeper, and linked up play. Zlatan displayed more mobility than we had realised he possessed, but he also demonstrated the intelligence we all knew he had.
Ibrahimovich was doing what Rooney had been trying to do for the last three weeks. This not only illustrates his superiority, but also his understanding of his place on the team. When Rooney was on the pitch, he allowed him to play these passes and assume his rightful role as leader.
It was like watching a semi-pro player turn up and play as a ringer for a terrible Sunday league side, but do so with such respect that you wouldn’t even realise how good he was. This emotional intelligence was epitomised after the Bournemouth match where Zlatan said he thought Wayne Rooney was the MOTM, and in the post match interview against Southampton where he stressed that Wayne Rooney was the leader. Anyone trying to accuse Zlatan of being arrogant, would find it difficult to build a case based on his conduct this season.
The truth is that Zlatan Ibrahimovich is more of a natural leader than Rooney. One of the Northampton players gave an interview in which he explained the Zlatan effect. He elevates his team mates and backs it up with supreme ability.
That isn’t to say Rooney isn’t a leader, but it’s like comparing Maximus Aurelius to a really a really good team leader at an RBS call centre in Southend-On-Sea.
Let’s see what happens next.