Ready to walk through a storm
WHEN you walk through a storm at Anfield, it's probably best not to be wearing a Manchester United shirt.
But here comes Wayne Rooney today, holding his head up high and trailing controversy in his wake, marching out in front of an acid-tongued Kop.
This is Anfield. This is an ambush for a former Evertonian now representing United and chastised from all quarters for his dismissal in Montenegro.
Insults will certainly fly faster than the fax from Nyon detailing UEFA's reasoning. It has yet to reach the FA, meaning it will be Monday at the earliest before Fabio Capello and company can seriously consider appealing Rooney's three-game ban.
Capello is keen to appeal, believing Rooney to have been unfairly treated, but will still not make a decision on whether Rooney travels to Euro 2012 until May.
Last season, Alex Ferguson withdrew Rooney from the trip to Goodison, aware of the ribald reception committee awaiting his No 10 following unpleasant residency on the front pages. This is different.
Unlike then, Rooney has never been in more potent form. He's not the type to hide anyway.
He'll know what is coming. A Liverpool fan outside Melwood on Thursday left those going inside to visit the manager, Kenny Dalglish, under no illusions of the sort of toxic taunts in store for Rooney. The invective will be long and loud, promised the fan. There is history between them.
There is the memory of Rooney warming up at Anfield as an Everton teenager, sprinting aggressively towards the Kop, all cocksure swagger as all manner of abuse let loose. Now he's the poster boy for United's vaulting ambition, a star with feet of class and occasionally feet of clay.
Take the red cards and family issues, stir in a dash of old-fashioned jealousy, and there's enough material in Rooney's 25 years to keep the Kop lyricists busy.
Even away from Anfield, the rivers of sympathy for Rooney flow neither fast nor deep. There is a public frustration, bordering on anger, at his act of petulance in Montenegro.
Two oases of calm could be found yesterday, the first at 9.30am sharp at United's training retreat at Carrington.
Ferguson refused to be drawn on Rooney -- "worth a try,'' he smiled, "10 out of 10 for trying" -- but he had already voiced his support for his player earlier in the week.
Forget England. It was business as usual for the champions and Ferguson's business is winning. So is Rooney's. They'll happily run the gauntlet if victory waits at the other end.
Four hours later, slightly more than 100 miles away, Sven-Goran Eriksson sat in his neat office at Leicester City's impressively renovated training ground and, echoing his England days, called for clemency for Rooney.
When Rooney was dismissed for stamping on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho at the 2006 World Cup, Eriksson appealed to press and public in his valedictory address -- "don't kill him".
Time's passage had not changed the message. "Do the same now -- don't kill him,'' said Eriksson.
"You need Rooney in the Euros. Capello sooner or later will say what he wants to do with Rooney, but I guess he'll take Rooney to the Euros. I would take him. Rooney can score the goal in the final and then no one will think about the games he was banned for.
"Even if he doesn't play for England until the quarter-finals he will play all the time for United. So you will have a very fresh Rooney in the quarter-finals. The manager (Capello) can give Rooney 15 minutes now and then in the friendlies. He will be very good to have in the group. He speaks to everyone, always happy. There's no ego to Rooney.
"There are many, many, many more positive things to Rooney than negatives. You can't defend a straight red card but you have to take it. His temperament is very competitive. That is why he is Wayne Rooney. He won't be second best to anyone.''
The Swede painted a portrait of Rooney as a "mixture" of technique and toughness. "He's an elegant player with his passing and vision but at the same time when he decides to do anything it is powerful. If you take away the aggression, you might lose the power."
Similar sentiments had been expressed by Dalglish at Melwood. Dousing the fire might lessen the player. "It is not just with Wayne Rooney, but any footballer: characteristics make the person and the person is what makes the footballer,'' reflected Dalglish. "If you don't like the personality, you might not get the footballer. You are what you are and you cannot change it."
Back in Leicester, Eriksson argued that Rooney was maturing. "You have only one problem with Rooney and that is to get him off the training ground. He loves it. He wants to shoot, cross, finish. He just wants to play football from the first minute of the day to the last."
He did it on the hard streets of Croxteth and today he will do it back in the old foe's backyard. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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