Fergie seeks winter break
ALEX FERGUSON insists Manchester United will "nurture" Wayne Rooney back to his explosive best after claiming that the 24-year-old and his England team-mates were "handicapped" at the World Cup by the English FA's failure to introduce a winter break.
While Ferguson and his United squad continue their pre-season preparations in the USA, where they face Philadelphia Union tomorrow evening, Rooney is one of a number of the club's World Cup participants enjoying an extended break.
England's dismal performance on the biggest stage, which culminated in a 4-1 second-round defeat against Germany, has been attributed in part to Rooney's failure to repeat his stunning club form of last season -- when he scored 34 goals for United --in an England shirt.
United manager Ferguson has thrown a protective arm around his star player, however, and claims that England's failure was a result of Fabio Capello's squad arriving in South Africa drained by an arduous domestic campaign.
The Premier League is the only one of the major European leagues to forego a winter shutdown and Ferguson believes that is the key factor in England's recurring failings at major tournaments.
"The FA has to give the country the best possible chance of doing well in the World Cup," he said.
"But because of the nature of our game, and because of the demands from television to have a programme every week, the idea of a winter break -- which I was first talking about 30 years ago in Scotland and have done since I came down to England -- nothing has happened about it. They must realise that, going into the World Cup, they (the FA) have handicapped their team.
"The season we have in England is tough. It's a real task to ask players to perform at the best level they can achieve after the season in England."
Rooney's poor showing in South Africa mirrored similarly underwhelming World Cup campaigns by fellow stellar names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Lionel Messi.
Ferguson has backed Rooney to shine at the next World Cup in Brazil, however, due to his faith in the player continuing his development and growth at Old Trafford.
And, while Capello failed to coax the best from Rooney in South Africa, Ferguson has delivered a thinly veiled criticism of the England camp by insisting that United know how to handle the player.
"The boy has got an incredible armoury of talent and what we have to do is to wait for that maturity. We do nurture it and try to advise and coach in a fashion which will improve his game," he said.
"But the most important thing I think he needs now is maturity and, when he gets that, I think you will see the complete footballer.
"Last year, Wayne had an improvement in terms of his timing and movement in the penalty box and his positioning was improved from the previous season.
"He got us over 30 goals and, if he does that again and adds a little bit to his game, then that is what we expect."
Ferguson has yet to decide whether Rooney, who returns to training a week today, will be considered for the Premier League opener against Newcastle on Aug 16 or handed more time to boost his fitness.
The 68-year-old could also be without the injured Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Michael Owen for the big kick-off, but claims that his emerging players are ready to justify his reluctance to scour the transfer market for reinforcements this summer.
"I think we have an outstanding chance because what people are not recognising in Manchester United at the moment is the developing nature of the team," he said.
"The younger players that are coming through, who have been at the club for maybe two or three years, are now starting to emerge and will become very good players."
Between double training sessions in Philadelphia yesterday, Ferguson's squad ran up the iconic steps leading to the city's Museum of Art, made famous during the 'Rocky' film when Sylvester Stallone's character ran up the 72 steps during a training montage in the Oscar-winning movie. But while the 'Rocky Steps' offered a novel training run for Ferguson's players, the manager says that his squad are now benefiting from the latest ideas in training preparation.
He said: "We used to do 1,200 and 800-metre runs way back when I first came to the club. Now, the most we will run is, maybe, 200m. That is a massive change, but the results are quite emphatic in the sense of it is the right direction we are going in."
Meanwhile, Ireland's Darron Gibson has returned home to Derry to attend the funeral of his grandmother. (© Daily Telegraph, London)