They say confidence is everything in football - never has that been truer than in the case of Wayne Rooney. A player who at one point last season was unstoppable, turned in another abject performance last night during England's dismal 0-0 draw with Montenegro, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with a major dilemma ahead of Saturday's crucial Premier League match with West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.
Rooney's recent performances for England have been dreadful and his performances in a Man Utd shirt haven't been much better. It represents a major decision for the United boss just what to do with his star player. Rooney clearly isn't operating at full fitness and his mental state cannot be much better in the wake of recent press allegations regarding his personal life.
In an ideal world, I believe Ferguson would like to take Rooney out the splotlight for an extended period, allowing him to regain his fitness and passion for football. The problem he has though is that by the time Rooney comes back, United's title bid could be all but over. Already five points behind Chelsea, United have no margin for error and finding the right combination up front in Rooney's absence has proved problematic.
Dimitar Berbatov is a certain starter and has been in fine form this season but the reality is, goalscoring is not his game and while he will chip in, he cannot be expected to score the goals necessary for a title winning team. Javier Hernandez has shown glimpses of real talent and has scored some great goals, but he is still young and learning and for every good game he has played so far he has also played one bad one.
Similarly, Kiko Macheda is in need of a regular run of games to find the form and consistency required to play in a team like Manchester United, but can United risk giving him this time when they are already behind Chelsea? A few weeks ago, it had looked like Michael Owen could be the man to solve the crisis, after he followed up a double at Scunthorpe with the equaliser at Bolton. There were even calls for him to be added to the England Euro 2012 qualifiying squad, but when handed his first start he was promptly hooked at half time.
All this points to the importance of Wayne Rooney to United and the likelihood that he will start against West Brom on Saturday. Whether or not he can recapture his form his open to debate and I would lean to the thinking that it could be some time before he does, but the facts are Manchester United will not win the Premiership title this season without Wayne Rooney, so Ferguson will just have to hope his man can rediscover his magic touch - and quickly!
Written by Colin Hill, a sports blogger who writes about new football kits.