Van Gaal won't let Rooney be lone ranger
Van Gaal needs more strikers than lone ranger Rooney
Louis van Gaal says one thing, but signs another.
His press conferences feel like masterclasses of deception. He drip-feeds quotes as if they were morsels of misdirection.
Whatever he says should be taken with more pinches of salt than the Dead Sea can offer.
If he claims that Manchester United are about to make Wayne Rooney an attacking lone ranger, then he is already looking for Tonto.
Don't be blindsided by the Dutchman's bluff. No man is an island in van Gaal's attack. He believes in safety in numbers.
He doesn't overload his wings and central midfield only to leave a tireless but regressing 29-year-old striker alone up front.
Van Gaal speaks like a Dutchman, but thinks like an Italian. They believe in an ace in the hole. United's biggest transfer surprise is yet to come.
Guessing the identity of van Gaal's surprise target certainly makes for idle coffee shop chatter.
Cristiano Ronaldo's image-rights deal with Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, which reduces Real Madrid's economic grip on their prized asset, hints at an early departure and perhaps a United homecoming.
Barcelona's restless forward Pedro Rodriguez is reportedly telling anyone who'll listen that he's tired of the Spanish city's charms and favours a move to rainy Manchester.
Gareth Bale leaves Real every week, according to a hostile Spanish media and Edinson Cavani may or may not be willing to take on the responsibilities previously earmarked for Radamel Falcao.
But playing "Guess Who" in the transfer market is less relevant than the "why". There's an unavoidable reason why United's chequebook will be waved again.
If van Gaal opts with a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin - a holding pair that could potentially defeat Chelsea's winning hand of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic - then Rooney goes solo.
But he's no longer the brutish force of nature to play figurehead.
His 30th birthday in October is less relevant than the resume. As Indiana Jones once pointed out, it's not the years. It's the mileage.
BODY WINDING DOWN
What was once his greatest asset around the penalty box threatens to become his biggest impediment - his body.
The man-child inevitably became a child-man. Rooney went from being a teenager with the body of a battle-scarred veteran to a battle-scarred veteran still trying to tear around like a teenager.
He managed 12 English Premier League goals last season. He hasn't topped 20 since the 2011-12 campaign, when he knocked in 27 and flourished alongside Robin van Persie.
Last season, van Gaal appreciated his skipper's mind, ticking with the consistent urgency of a time bomb, but also acknowledged the body clock.
He pulled Rooney back and pushed his career forward. The No. 10 role offered longevity. But if the forward goes it alone up front, his number could be up.
Van Gaal isn't noted for his tolerance of fading strikers. Ask van Persie and Falcao.
Not that he'll ever say as much of course.
United's Champions League-winning squads of 1999 and 2008 prevailed with their classic quartets in attack and van Gaal mischievously suggested that James Wilson and Javier Hernandez will get more chances with Memphis Depay.
The former PSV forward did finish top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie last season, but the prospect of the 21-year-old playing on the shoulder of a striker who managed just 12 EPL goals doesn't suggest a title-winning combination.
In the context of silverware potential, Rooney, Depay, Hernandez and Wilson are not so much fantastic as they are the flaccid four.
Van Gaal's favoured formation of 4-3-3 offers more wriggle room, allowing him to also play Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera in central midfield, with Rooney sandwiched between Depay and Angel di Maria.
Juan Mata could even switch flanks with Depay, if the unsettled di Maria heads for a club with more seasonal weather than Manchester's June and winter.
But the glaring absence of pace in the line-up, aside from Depay, would further increase Rooney's burden of responsibility.
United's skipper is a wiser player now, but not a faster one. A deeper position allows his quicker brain to compensate for the loss of a half a yard.
Rooney is unlikely to score 20 goals in a single campaign, but he could conceivably help to create that magic number for the striker ahead of him.
He should only play the lone ranger role out of necessity, rather than choice.
If United's skipper finds himself leading the line next season, it will be because van Gaal failed to sign a superior replacement.
Louis van Gaal has been a bit ruthless with a few of his decisions lately and that is what good managers do. Managers have to make major decisions andsometimes people have to move on and the manager has got to change things the way he sees it... You have to be ruthless at stages.
- Bryan Robson says he sees a bit of Sir Alex Ferguson in van Gaal when he decided to ruthlessly ditch Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Victor Valdes