Team-mates back under-fire Rooney as English FA gets tough in bid to boost flagging Respect campaign
The FA believes that the Wayne Rooney verbal abuse case will prove a significant landmark in the Respect campaign, despite claims yesterday from some Manchester United players that the furore since the striker swore into a TV camera last weekend reflects a national prejudice against the club and its success.
United players declared yesterday that the FA's decision to enforce a two-game ban against Rooney was disproportionate and even Ryan Giggs said he was "bamboozled" by the punishment. "There was no precedent for it," he said. "It had just never been done before. I'm not surprised (by a sanction) because of the profile Wayne has got -- but a two-match ban, yeah, I'm surprised about that."
The FA, who will keep a watching brief on cameras encroaching towards the playing area after Saturday's incident at West Ham, reject any claim of an anti-United bias, despite Rooney's ban coming two weeks after manager Alex Ferguson's five-game touchline ban.
Though the Rooney case was judged on its own merits, there is a feeling at the FA that the profile Rooney commands when he transgresses the game's codes has ensured a greater profile for the Respect campaign than might otherwise have been the case.
Though Rooney said yesterday that the sanction "didn't seem right" considering his immediate apology, the FA believe that a similar incident at last summer's World Cup, when the striker escaped punishment after swearing into a camera, should have acted as a warning to him.
United's players declared yesterday that the FA's ban would strengthen the side's morale, with Luis Nani affirming a desire to "show those people" who "speak badly about us." United's attempts to cite the abuse Rooney received from West Ham fans at Upton Park in mitigation has come to nothing and the 25-year-old will now miss United's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City as well as tomorrow's league game with Fulham.
"Every year we fight against the best teams and of course, a lot of people like Manchester United and on the other side a lot of people don't like us," Nani said. "It's normal to have an opinion and speak badly about us, but we have to be strong and win all those games to show those people."
City manager Roberto Mancini said that with Rooney missing a week tomorrow, United would lack a talent who "at this moment, he is not 100pc he is 200pc." Mancini did express some surprise at the ban.
"In 20 years I don't remember anything like this. I think there might have been one player in Italy," he said. "Will it improve our chances? We know he can change a game at any moment like when we played at Old Trafford."
United's 1-0 Champions League quarter-final first leg victory at Stamford Bridge offers consolation as well as an "unbelievable psychological boost", according to Rio Ferdinand. But the defender continued his staunch defence of Rooney yesterday by suggesting that players ought to be given greater freedom to celebrate, though that should not include the conduct witnessed at West Ham.
"It's not 'do as you want' -- there's got to be a little bit of a barrier to what you do," Ferdinand said. "But even the slightest things like taking your shirt off when you score a goal. What is the problem with that? I don't understand why that has been banned. It's going to get a few more birds in the stadiums.
"I think sometimes people want to make up too many rules when you don't really need it. I'm sure there is some support (for Rooney), but there's more against him. People want to string him up."
Nani also argued for freedom of expression. "Sometimes when we score we try to express ourselves for ourselves, not the fans or for the people," he said. "I think (Rooney) was unlucky because he's a superstar, everyone is focused on him when he does something."
Rooney said in a statement that he was "not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won't be the last. Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. Whatever, I have to accept that what's happened has happened and move on from here."
Ferguson, whose side have never lost a European tie having first won the away leg, may be helped by the anticipated return to training of Darren Fletcher today, after recovery from a severe virus. Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, said that while he was pleased to avoid the threat of Rooney, he sympathised with the striker for being under constant scrutiny.
"I watched it on the box and I thought he may be in trouble for it," Hughes said. "I've been in that situation where there is a release of energy and emotion. I'll hold my hands up, I've probably done similar things. The fact it's been caught on camera, that was the difference.
"It's very difficult to plead the case for what happened because there are cameras everywhere. Everyone has a camera, on their phones or whatever, so we are very aware of the significance of our actions as managers and players. Doing anything to camera is on record and if it's inappropriate, you pay the consequences." (© Independent News Service)