Wayne Rooney ‘s season, has been one of personal triumphs, regardless of how the League campaign ends, his goals, performances and all- round heroics, mean that he will be able to look back over 2009-10 with a degree of satisfaction.
It’s not just that Wazza has stepped out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow, carried the United team so often that he’s in danger of resembling Peter Beardsley, or finally ended his fondness for rushes of blood to the head. It’s that in a season when United have been by their own standards, quite often p*ss poor, Rooney’s been able to maintain a title challenge that by rights should have been dead and buried at Christmas.
Sir Alex Ferguson, knows a thing or two about football. Yes I know that’s something of a controversial statement- right up there with Emile Heskey could do with a few more goals, or Adrian Chiles is getting annoying- but oblige me. Fergie realised quite a while ago –about teatime on a Wednesday while watching Deal or No Deal- that Rooney isn’t just important to United’s title challenge, he’s essential. In fact I’d argue that United would have a greater chance beating one of the better teams in the league by playing without a goalkeeper than they would without WR10 – well it worked for Ronaldo so I thought I’d give it a go, but it just sounds like a post code in Worcester or somewhere, so I won’t do it again.
With some of the results United have achieved – or should I say the teams playing United have achieved- when Rooney’s been missing, it’s obvious no match can be taken for granted. This isn’t like the good old days of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer- backed up by a free-scoring midfield. Then Fergie could rest any combination of two of those and the other two would step in and do a job. This isn’t 1999-2001. If United are to win even the supposed ‘bankers’ this time round, more often than not every Stretford Ender’s favourite scouser has to be on the team sheet.
Don’t get me wrong footballing colossus’s such as Bolton and Wolves have been put to the sword without Rooney- well Bolton were, Wolves were unlucky. But as Blackburn proved, without Rooney United are not so much a ‘force to be reckoned with’ as a team bereft of a leader, goalscorer, threat or idea. They need Rooney, like Frank Ribery and Carlos Tevez need to be good at football to attract beautiful women- although in Ribery’s case even that isn’t enough- allegedly.
Lately we’ve seen Rooney being picked when he could obviously do with being rested, and the results have been mixed. Against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, he seemed okay to begin with but then following a dirty, clever, know-exactly-what-his-weak-spot-is-so-hit-him-there-type of challenge, by Mark Van Bommel – he was effectively a passenger for the rest of the game- until he was subbed far too late for my liking.
Then after being rested against Blackburn, which surely meant he was in absolutely no condition to play whatsoever, he was back for the Manchester derby.
It’s here that the real depth of the problem facing, Rooney, Fergie and in-turn England, comes to light. Before the game it was rumoured that England’s brightest star, had needed fluid draining from his ankle to be able to play. Now I’m no doctor but surely if someone requires fluid draining from any part of their body then their certainly not fit enough to be running round a football pitch in one of the most hyped-up games of the season. Even if ankle-fluid-draining-gate is untrue, the fact is Rooney looked far from his normal self at Eastlands, so much so that he didn’t even look all that surprised when the bench decided to bring him off.
The point I’m trying to make, is that against Bayern and City, he arguably should not have even been in the squad. He obviously needs rest and is not getting it at the moment and highly unlikely to get it until the season ends.
You could argue that even a below-par Rooney is better than a fully fit somebody else- you might say Dimitar Berbatov, but due to previous articles I’ve written, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Against Bayern Munich, for every man that says Rooney being on the pitch, at least following his injury was a mistake, there’s someone who thinks he was right to play, as it brought space to others, because Bayern were so wary of him. There’s also the point that Fergie did ask Rooney of he was fit to carry on and got the ‘thumbs-up’ signal which is universally accepted in almost every country as meaning ‘happy days’ or something to that effect- except in Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq where it’s obscene- in case you were wondering.
Then there’s the derby, yes Rooney was subdued slightly but United won and surely the ends justify the means, even if he wasn’t on the pitch when the winner was scored.
So what should Fergie do, rest Rooney and see United lose? No. Of course not, but there must be a real danger that the way things are going Rooney may end the season being wheeled out-literally- against Stoke on the final day.
As long as United are in the title race- which could well go all the way to the last day and Rooney says he’s fit, which barring an amputation he’s always going to claim- in fact even then I think he’d argue a case for playing- a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail “it’s only a flesh wound.” Sorry , I digress, yes, Rooney will always want to play and Fergie will always play him, at least for the next two weeks.
All this leaves the question, will there be anything left of Wayne Rooney for South Africa? As the last World Cup proved an unfit Wayne Rooney is no good to anyone. Alternatively, is Fabio Capello faced with the same dilemma as Fergie? Leave Rooney out or play an unfit Wayne Rooney? Either option is fraught with problems.
One thing’s for sure, Alex Ferguson won’t be losing any sleep over England’s worries when it comes to WR10- okay so that really doesn’t work and I definitely won’t do it again. Many England fans however, may just have a little cause for concern.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’