Ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville concedes the odds of Wayne Rooney remaining at Old Trafford next season are dwindling by the day.
As skipper and the club’s all-time record goalscorer, Rooney’s standing with the Reds is unquestionable, but the 31-year-old’s future is far from certain amid his reduced role under manager Jose Mourinho and interest from the Chinese Super League.
No longer an automatic starter, nine of Rooney’s 18 Premier League appearances have come from the bench as Mourinho prefers Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial in the attacking roles.
But with Ibrahimovic serving the final games of a three-match suspension against Middlesbrough on Sunday and West Brom on April 1, Neville harbours some hope that a run in the side may just be enough to convince Rooney his future is at United.
“Him being there next season is doubtful just because of the noise,” Neville told Omnisport. “I hope he’s there next season. I think Wayne still has a lot to offer, but he wants to play more often.
“He’s not playing as much football as he’d like. Knowing him, he’s the type of footballer that would like to play every minute of every day.
“There’s definitely some doubt, but there’s still two to three months left in the season. United have plenty to play for, including qualifying for the Champions League.
“My view would be, maybe his mind can be changed by what happens in those months. With Ibrahimovic missing it is an opportunity for Marcus Rashford, but also for Rooney potentially.”
Despite breaking records for United and England, Rooney has not been spared the criticism of supporters or pundits, while links with the CSL – where the likes of Carlos Tevez, Oscar and Hulk ply their trade – have persisted.
Neville, who played alongside Rooney for club and country and won eight Premier League titles during his illustrious career at Old Trafford, added: “Look at life nowadays and social media, we’re so quick to judge everybody.
“He is going through a period of his career where obviously the performances and appearances aren’t the same as they were. People tend to forget what happened previously.
“All he needs to do is retire and all of a sudden everybody would remember the greatness of him. We are seeing it with [Arsene] Wenger, Rooney, Steven Gerrard, you see this approach towards them and then they retire and people respect and enjoy what they’ve seen for the last 15 years.
“He will get the credit he deserves eventually because he’s had a magnificent career. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for what he’s achieved in terms of club and country appearances, goals, commitment and leadership. He is just going through a natural period that most players do.”
While Rooney remains under a cloud, it is almost certain that United will strengthen for the 2017-18 campaign amid links with Antoine Griezmann, Victor Lindelof and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Long-term successors to Ibrahimovic and Michael Carrick have emerged as priorities for United’s hierarchy, but Neville suggested a more radical overhaul may be required.
“I think you could argue they need strengthening in defence, midfield and attack,” said the 42-year-old. “Three or four players wouldn’t just be in one area, they would be spread among those.
“They do need strengthening. It’s obvious. I don’t think United have sat there as the only team that needs strengthening. If you think about English teams falling short in Europe, we need to strengthen all our top teams. [Manchester] City need to strengthen, Arsenal, Liverpool, United need to strength.
“I don’t think United are in a unique position. The issue I suppose is that every club seems to be after the same players.”
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