LONDON – Rarely can a player who had bad-mouthed his club and let it be known via “sources” he wanted to leave have been given such a standing ovation as Wayne Rooney when he was substituted in the 84th minute of Manchester United’s 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
The Old Trafford faithful stood as one to applaud Rooney, proving that the power of forgiveness comes with goals. Score and everything is OK.
You want to join Chelsea? That’s awful — until you score a few goals for United. Rooney’s brace against Leverkusen took him to 200 goals for United, who he had, according to “friends,” desperately wanted to leave during the summer.
Rooney snapped at ITV’s Gabriel Clarke who, quite reasonably, asked him if he was happy, not answering the question and refusing to be drawn on whether he had asked for a transfer, as Alex Ferguson said.
Professionalism triumphed over moodiness and finally realizing United had no intention of selling a prize asset, Rooney, 27, has opened the season in blistering form. He still refuses to speak about “the summer,” but to most it is inconceivable he would want to leave Manchester United where he is approaching legendary status.
He is earning around £250,000 ($400,000) a week, he needs 50 goals to overtake Bobby Charlton’s club record 249, and while the former Everton striker will never be held in the same esteem as Charlton, to be the leading goalscorer for the biggest and most successful club in England is something just about any player would love to have on his CV. How on earth could anyone want to give up the possibility of that and start again elsewhere?
On Sunday at the Etihad, Manchester City plays United as Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes make their derby debuts as managers. Statistics offer little help in choosing a winner — if there is one: City is currently undefeated in 36 of its last 38 home matches, though one of those losses was to United. The champions are undefeated in 27 of their last 30 Premier League matches. The blue irresistible force against the red immovable object.
The cream of English football’s striking talent will be on view with Rooney, Robin van Persie, Antonio Valencia, Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero all scoring in the Champions League on Tuesday. To that list can be added Javier Hernandez, Maroune Fellaini, Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho. A goal-less draw is unlikely.
Inevitably Rooney will be the focus, and as he prepared for the game he said: “I feel good. I’ve had some good training the last few weeks. It’s been stop-start with the injuries, but I have just kept my head down and worked hard. I’ve tried to do everything right. I have tried to show the right attitude and that’s paying off for me on the pitch.”
Until Rooney speaks about his summer of discontent the subject will not be put to bed. He cannot continue to chat to the written press, warning that if anyone asks him about the summer “I’ll walk off.” Maybe we’ll have to wait for another autobiography.
HAD RAFA BENITEZ gone four games without a win as interim Chelsea manager they would have been burning effigies of the Spaniard (some people probably were anyway).
Chelsea fans are so stunned that the return of Jose Mourinho has not seen the Blues wipe the floor with the opposition they are unsure how to react. The Special One has become the Human One.
Mourinho’s achievements first time round will give him time before questions are asked, though there were some boos at the end of the 2-1 home defeat by an excellent FC Basel.
The way owner Roman Abramovich shook his head at the end was worth a thousand words, which is a thousand more than he has ever spoken to the media. The Russian visited the dressing-room after the match but Chelsea players adopt an Abramovich-style vow of silence about such matters.
The Portuguese accused his team of lacking maturity and personality, a damning statement as the entire 18-man squad were full internationals. Perhaps the most telling comment came from Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports: “Every time Chelsea play they have only 10 men. They have no striker.”
Failure to beat Fulham on Saturday and make it five games without a victory will raise the pressure on Mourinho, a manager not used to adversity.
On the other hand, Arsenal’s crisis, a result of the opening-day home defeat by Aston Villa, is consigned to the waste paper bin. If we overestimated Mourinho’s second coming, we once again underestimated Arsene Wenger, a manager who constantly makes others eat their words.
It is embarrassing to look back at the criticism of Wenger made only a few weeks ago made by both the press and Arsenal supporters. The Frenchman is too much of a class act to adopt an I-told-you-so attitude, but we of little faith are now rightly praising a Gunners side that registered its tenth consecutive away win with the 2-1 victory in Marseille.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.