Paul Parker

Rooney a disaster, Smalling a nervous wreck… United are just awful.

Paul Parker

Saturday's defeat showed that there are a lot of things wrong at Manchester United.

A lot.

They're missing quality players, experience on the pitch, and men with the big game mentality.

But right near the top of their list of problems is leadership, because Louis van Gaal's decision to make Wayne Rooney his captain was ridiculous.

Robin van Persie was the outstanding choice to be the club skipper - an experienced man to take on a job which is increasingly important in modern football. In the days when teams don't stick together for years, when you have new faces coming and going every season, the importance of a man to draw everyone together on the pitch can be crucial.

And Wayne Rooney was never going to be that man. He's the absolute archetype of a player who thinks that leadership is simply about shouting and screaming.

Who in their right mind would actually think that? It wouldn't work on a factory floor, so why would it work on a football pitch? Because one thing's pretty clear: Rooney isn't shouting to make his words of advice, encouragement and inspiration heard - he's just losing his rag an bellowing at his fellow players.

To make matters worse, most of those players alongside him know full well that this is a player who has a track record of sulking and demanding to quit the club every time things don’t go his way. Why would the players get behind someone they wouldn't trust to still be there come the end of January?

I was lucky enough  to play with captains including Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson, men who were strong, determined, and loyal - all qualities you need in a skipper, all woefully lacking in Rooney.

That was just the start of the problems, though. Take the defence: it was a shambles. The only player who looked remotely comfortable at the back was Tyler Blackett, a 20-year-old kid making his debut for goodness sake.

Phil Jones just blunders his way round the pitch with seemingly no idea where he's meant to be, and Chris Smalling was a nervous wreck. To be a top defender you need to know when to challenge for a ball, and when to sit back and just shepherd play into the safe areas. Jones and Smalling have no concept of that at all, going at everything like headless chickens, trying to win every ball and - inevitably - getting found out because of it.

Then there's the midfield, which is at least two players short of competence, and totally bereft of creative players who actually want the ball.

Up front, Van Persie's return from injury will cause trouble - because I still don't believe that he and Rooney can play well together. Rooney is only ever any good up front as a conventional centre-forward, he simply doesn't have the guile or craft to play the number 10 role - and when he tries it, his attempts end up looking nothing short of brutish. Juan Mata or Shinji Kagawa are the only people in the squad right now capable of playing there - so where does that leave Rooney once RVP is back?

As for who United should bring in, a lot of people have suggested that Angel Di Maria could be the man. I disagree completely. He's totally one-footed - so much so that you always know he'll pause and switch feet when closing on goal - and for the £50 million or so being talked about he's simply far too inconsistent.

Guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale actually go some way to justifying their huge transfer fees, simply because of their consistent performances every week. But Di Maria goes missing for several matches at a time - just as he did at the World Cup. And yet United are supposed to pay top whack? It doesn't add up.

I'd suggest United went for a man with real presence in midfield - and I think Alex Song would be an excellent choice. Not only does he know what the Premier League will be like, he's also shown in the past that he can link up well with Van Persie - and I think he'd be ideal, exactly the steady presence United need. On top of everything else, given that things haven't gone well for him at Barcelona he'd surely be desperate to leave.

As for the defence? The signing of Marcos Rojo wouldn't be a bad start, but I'm still unable to believe that a club of Manchester United's stature can't sign Mats Hummels.

So Dortmund want £30m or £40m for him - so what? Pay it. It's just ridiculous not to go for the players you need at the level that United want to be at. How on earth do they expect to achieve anything without doing those sorts of deals?

Even those players might not be enough, though. Van Gaal seems determined to persevere with his 3-5-2 tactics, a system I played during my career. At QPR we made it work for us, finishing fifth in the league, but I always felt it was a very negative way of playing, more about destroying than creating, and I really don't believe that it's possible to make it work in the English top flight.

Possibly, just possibly, if Van Gaal had his entire back five from the Dutch national team then he might be able to pull it off - but the personnel are crucial, because with 3-5-2 everything has to start from the back. With the players in the squad at United right now it's a disaster.

As if all that weren't bad enough for United fans, it's ominous how good Manchester City and Chelsea looked in their opening matches - City in particular, coming through comfortably in a tough opener against a good Newcastle side. The gap between United and the top clubs in the country hasn't been this big in a generation.

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