SAN JOSE, July 21- Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has saluted the leadership of Wayne Rooney as he prepares to reward the Red Devils captain by playing him in his preferred role of centre-forward.
Rooney was handed the captain’s armband by van Gaal last August during his first season in charge at Old Trafford, and the England striker’s performance in the role made a lasting impression on the Dutchman.
“I could not have expected more,” van Gaal told reporters here Monday as United prepared for the second game of their US tour against San Jose Earthquakes.
“I think he’s a great captain. Better than I had expected. He is fully accepted by the players and that’s also very important because I can choose the captain — but the players decide.”
Rooney spent a frustrating season at United last year being deployed in various positions, from midfield, out wide or as a withdrawn striker.
Now however van Gaal plans to give Rooney an opportunity to nail down his favoured starting position as an out-and-out centre-forward.
“I’ve listened to you and that’s why,” van Gaal joked to journalists on Monday when asked to explain his decision.
“I think you have more knowledge than I, so now Rooney is there.”
– Rooney target –
Rooney, who led the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation for 45 minutes against Club America in Seattle on Friday, is relishing the chance to stake a claim to the striker’s role.
“My best position, and I have always said it, is as a striker, getting into the box,” Rooney told British media.
“And the two seasons I have really done that as a lone striker have been my two best goalscoring seasons.
“It is where the manager and myself see my best position.
“Hopefully I can get a good run of games and repay the manager and score goals for the team, but it is obviously on me to do that.
“I have no doubts that I can score 20 goals or more again and I am ready to take on that mantle and be the one who gets the goals for this team.
“If I play up there again this season, then I can get the goals. It is where I like and it is where I will play.”
Rooney has set himself a target of scoring more than 20 goals for United this season after finding the net just 14 times last year in all competitions, his lowest return since joining United from Everton in 2004.
The 29-year-old believes his goalscoring record for England suggests he will provide United with a potent threat following the departures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.
“I have played different roles over the years for United, but you only have to look when I play for England as a striker, I score goals,” Rooney said.
“I hope to score 20 or more goals again this season. If I am playing as a striker, I will be disappointed if I cannot that do that.
“The last time I really played the full season as a striker was 2011-12. All the other seasons, I have been up front, then in midfield or out wide, so hopefully I will stay up front.”
After United play San Jose on Tuesday they face a further game against Barcelona on Saturday before wrapping up their tour against Paris Saint Germain in Chicago.