Rooney should make way for Martial
Martial should be main man up front
CSKA MOSCOW 1
(Seydou Doumbia 15)
MAN UNITED 1
(Anthony Martial 65)
Wayne Rooney celebrates his 30th birthday tomorrow.
Cristiano Ronaldo is already 30.
It's often overlooked that the weary British bulldog once played junior partner to the boy with extra Brylcreem in his hair and brio in his game.
But the two uncompromising competitors, fellow greats and former colleagues, appear to be playing a warped game of Benjamin Button with each other.
Like the famous Brad Pitt character, Rooney ages as Ronaldo regresses, the strikers passing each other in the opposite directions of life.
If the game endures, Rooney will play ravaged pensioner to Ronaldo's terrifying toddler.
The descent of a superhero is always less thrilling than the take-off, but the rapid decline of the most ferocious English footballer of his generation is increasingly painful to watch.
Like the prize-fighters he has so long admired, Rooney won't throw in the towel. He'll keep punching blindly until someone intervenes on his behalf.
Against CSKA Moscow yesterday morning (Singapore time), he kept swinging wildly, hoping to land one, stretching every aching nerve and sinew to make one stick.
But the Champions League encounter largely passed him by, as most games invariably do these days.
And, as Sunday's Manchester Derby creeps closer, the memory instinctively hits play on nostalgia's jukebox, replaying that overhead kick from 2011, when he killed the contest like an old assassin still capable of one last hit.
That Rooney is gone.
The evidence is obvious to all except his agent, his manager and the kid from the hostile council estate who overcame every societal obstacle to succeed.
But he can't beat his own body. The boy blessed with a bruiser's aggression was also cursed with a fighter's physique. His legs are going and he can't bear to hear the final bell.
Rooney rarely got a kick in Moscow. Another sad outing was underpinned by the poignancy of its location. He once reigned over Chelsea in the Russian capital, defeating them to win the Champions League final.
The tournament that made his United career now challenges it.
Easy headlines focus on the fall and rise of Anthony Martial in a single game; his handball immaturity costing a penalty goal before his youthful tenacity earned a terrific equaliser.
Those were the fine details. Taking a broader view, the game wasn't so much about Martial as it was a natural-born killer who's lost his aim but won't step aside for a younger competitor.
A cliched Hollywood tale inhibits the American-owned club. Butch Cassidy can't make way for the Sundance Kid.
United's first-half performance typified their season-long schizophrenia.
The plodders were back. The speedsters who saw off Everton were replaced with the statues that cracked at Arsenal.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was tortoise-in-chief, but the absence of direction and decisiveness at United's apex made targets hard to find.
Paul Scholes lamented United's lack of movement.
He also compared the form of both Rooney and Martial. He left others to join the dots.
United's captain slows his team's progress in the final third and inadvertently hinders Martial's development.
IN THE WAY
With the French teenager cast in a left-sided role, the only thing between him and the goal is often, quite literally, his skipper.
Jesse Lingard was started and Marouane Fellaini added at half-time to inject the urgency missing in United's attack.
Despite his hefty price tag, Juan Mata is still considered expendable, but Rooney is an untouchable above Louis van Gaal's law.
But to pay lip service to a fading legend is to undermine him.
As an impact player, Rooney still has a role to play, but van Gaal's initial insistence that his captain could reach double figures this season risks making both men look foolish.
Double jeopardy is the likelier outcome, with Rooney failing to score enough goals while not chipping in with enough assists to boost his teammates' tallies.
Everything was just off against CSKA. He just missed reaching crosses.
His deliveries just missed their targets. His runs were just a fraction too late.
As United floundered, Martial might have switched places with Rooney, taking the No. 9 role he clearly covets, as Ander Herrera moved left and Rooney took over No. 10 responsibilities in a triangular game of musical chairs.
But van Gaal opted for the politically correct alternative of sending on Fellaini, leaving an off-key Rooney to warble on with the status quo.
It wasn't pretty.
BY THE NUMBERS
22 Only David de Gea (19) had fewer touches than Wayne Rooney (22) for Manchester United in the first half of their match against CSKA Moscow yesterday morning (Singapore time).
As the skipper continues to lead the line, his reputation suffers a slow, agonising death by a thousand paper cuts.
Rooney deserves better. He deserves to be dropped. Not to finish his career, but to save it.
Former Red Devils blast LVG's side
A team that are sorely lacking the ingenuity of former Manchester United sides.
That summed up how three former Red Devils, speaking on BT Sport, felt after watching Louis van Gaal's boys draw 1-1 with CSKA Moscow yesterday morning (Singapore time).
United legend Paul Scholes bemoaned the lack of creativity, as United trailed by a Seydou Doumbia goal after David de Gea had saved from a penalty conceded by Anthony Martial, who made amends later with the equaliser.
Scholes, who retired in 2013, had expected a lot better from United.
Said the former midfielder: "You expect them to be more creative. You expect players to run with pace and penetration.
"You would think that with (Bastian) Schweinsteiger and (Ander) Herrera, the quality should be there."
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand agreed with his ex-teammate.
"I can't imagine the frustration that Louis van Gaal must be feeling, from going to the weekend against Everton (a 3-0 win) to this, where the intensity doesn't seem anywhere near the same," Ferdinand said.
"The exact word is 'pedestrian'. I feel like a broken record. I have said it nearly every time I have watched Manchester United.
"When the ball gets wide, in the midfield and the forward areas, there are no options. It is just not United."
Another former United player, Owen Hargreaves, said: "In the second half, they went a bit more direct and brought (Marouane) Fellaini on, but I still think there are a lot of questions and not a ton of answers at United." - Wire Services.
Wolfsburg go top
PSV EINDHOVEN 0
Wolfsburg scored twice in 11 minutes through Bas Dost and Max Kruse to beat PSV Eindhoven 2-0 in their Champions League game yesterday morning (Singapore time) to go two points clear at the top of Group B.
Dutch striker Dost got his maiden Champions League goal a minute after the restart and in-form Kruse added another with a glancing header in the 57th minute, with goalkeeper Diego Benaglio saving a PSV penalty by Juergen Locadia in stoppage time. - Reuters.
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