LONDON — When Wayne Rooney was presented with the Footballer of the Year trophy last May the prospect of him (a) leaving Manchester United and (b) scoring just one outfield goal in seven months would have been so preposterous that any discussion could only have come at the end of a long night.
Yet Rooney does indeed go into Saturday’s game against West Bromwich having scored one outfield goal for England against Switzerland last month since his strike against Bayern Munich last March, a total of 1,671 minutes in 20 matches. By his standards Rooney has had only three decent games in that period.
Whether Rooney plays against West Bromwich is another matter. He has effectively said Sir Alex Ferguson was lying about his fitness, and those who challenge or criticize the Scot usually find themselves being shown the door at Old Trafford (ask David Beckham, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Roy Keane).
Ferguson left Rooney out of the side against Valencia and Sunderland, citing an ankle injury. After an anonymous display against Montenegro this week Rooney said he had not had an ankle problem this season, “I don’t know why the manager said that,” and assured the media “he had not missed a training session for two months.”
The conclusion is that Ferguson dropped Rooney for his alleged nocturnal excesses and the fact that the striker spoke to journalists after the 0-0 draw underlined his willingness to put his point forward. Some may see this as an arm-round-the-shoulder gesture to help a desperately out-of-form player rather than a kick up the backside.
However, you take on Fergie at your peril. Ferguson does not like publicity like Rooney’s alleged liaison with ladies of the night, which was splashed over the front pages.
In fact, he is so sensitive to negative press coverage that most reporters who cover United on a regular basis have been banned at some stage.
The journalist who suggested Rooney was rushed back too quickly after sustaining an ankle injury in Munich last March was banned indefinitely.
Selling Rooney would be a last resort, and Ferguson will not cut off his nose to spite his face, but it is not the far-fetched scenario it would have been when the England international was scoring for fun last season.
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IT WOULD be nice to think that something was lost in translation given Fabio Capello’s command, or lack of it, of English. But on this occasion nothing was taken out of context.
“The yellow card was really, really good,” said the England manager referring to Wayne Rooney’s cynical challenge on Montenegro’s Elsad Zverotic. “It was a really dangerous attack.”
The tackle occurred in midfield and seemed more a reaction to Rooney’s frustration that England had not been awarded a penalty a few moments earlier. Whatever . . . it is astonishing not to mention unacceptable that any manager, let alone the man in charge, of England should condone foul play.
THE ARROGANCE in some quarters was staggering. The belief was that as England was playing a country which sounded like Monty Python, and was only four years old in a football sense, it would easily beat Montenegro at Wembley.
You would have thought its under-achievement at the World Cup would have made everyone realize that England is not a very good side and, in Fabio Capello, has a manager who has struggled to replicate his club success on the international stage.
England’s display in the goal-less, soul-less draw was ordinary, lifeless and, most worryingly, bereft of ideas on how to penetrate a well-organized, committed Montenegro (population 680,000).
When Plan A failed there was no Plan B. It said everything about England’s performance that Capello was reduced to complaining that three minutes added time was not enough.
Only the most committed — and you can take the meaning of that word in any way you like — England follower can still believe this team has a realistic chance of success at Euro 2012.
England will probably qualify for Euro 2012, but then it will be more of the same at the finals — for South Africa read Poland and Ukraine.
The public has lost faith in Capello and the England side.
Capello’s body language gives the impression of a man who has fallen out of love with his job, but there will be no divorce.
The Football Association won’t sack him (there is no natural successor readily available and it would cost them around £10 million in compensation), while Capello is not going to walk away without a payoff.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.
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