Real deal Rooney eyes Ronaldo's goals record
Manchester Utd 3
THE life and times of Wayne Rooney are becoming so predictable.
Another game, yet another appearance on the scoresheet and the inevitable noises from Spain claiming that Real Madrid are "obsessed" with luring him from Manchester United.
Clearly not satisfied with spending £80m to take Cristiano Ronaldo from Old Trafford last summer, Real president Florentino Perez is now apparently determined to add Rooney, whose two goals against Fulham helped lift United back to the top of the Premier League, to his personal collection of galacticos at the Bernabeu.
Ramon Calderon, Perez's predecessor as Real president, teed up United's clash with Fulham yesterday with the following revelation about Madrid's plans.
Calderon said: "It seems that it's an obsession for the president to go for Rooney. I imagine Manchester United wouldn't like to lose a player like him."
Calderon's assumption that Alex Ferguson and United are prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep Rooney is 100pc correct, but while the Spaniards held all the aces in their pursuit of Ronaldo, Rooney has shown little appetite for a move to La Liga.
The England forward now has 32 goals in all competitions this season. Twenty-five have come in the Premier League, 24 in his last 22 appearances and 17 since the turn of the year.
When he negotiates a new contract at Old Trafford this summer, Rooney will be able to name his price, but regardless of his escalating value, United have no concerns about him being tempted by Real.
The only topic of debate surrounding him is whether he will surpass Ronaldo's 42-goal mark set in the 2007-08 season. Even Denis Law's club record of 46 goals in a campaign appears within his reach. Ferguson said: "I said a while ago that it's impossible for a player to get 42 in the present day, but Wayne's on 32, so what can I say?
"It's a challenge for him, he is capable of scoring in the next eight league games and possibly five European games, so he's got 13 games possibly. You never know. I won't put it beyond him. We're enjoying his form at the moment. He's definitely making a difference to the team."
Ferguson said Rooney was "a certainty" to be named Footballer of the Year. "You can't ignore his form and I think he has a great chance of winning both the players' award and the football writers' prize." Rooney is undoubtedly stealing the show ahead of his United team-mates this season, but any bruised egos will be soothed by the medals that the Liverpudlian's form seems set to deliver.
Ferguson claimed that the title race was the "tightest ever". A touch of exaggeration, perhaps, from a man who has endured numerous final-day title deciders, but with Rooney around, United surely have the edge over Chelsea and Arsenal.
United looked anything but title challengers when they fell to a 3-0 defeat at Fulham in December, but since that humiliation, Ferguson's team have collected 29 points from a possible 36.
They now have the scent of a record-breaking 19th league title in their nostrils and Ferguson's programme notes, calling for his team to win all of their remaining fixtures, were duly noted by his players who should have racked up a match-winning lead by half-time.
The slick, flowing football that overcame AC Milan in midweek was repeated, but the finishing touch was not quite so clinical.
Rooney missed his share, as did Dimitar Berbatov, but any doubts over the outcome of the game were banished once Rooney gave United the lead within 20 seconds of the start of the second half. Fulham barely touched the ball before Rooney laid it off to Nani and burst into the penalty area to claim the return, which he sidefooted into the far corner past Mark Schwarzer.
Another game, another goal, but there was more to come from the 24-year-old. United had to survive a Bobby Zamora scare on 75 minutes when Nemanja Vidic produced a crucial tackle to thwart the forward, but there was only going to be one winner and Rooney confirmed United's victory by making it 2-0 after 84 minutes.
Berbatov, impressive throughout, crossed for his strike partner to score at the near post, to the delight of the Old Trafford faithful. Rooney had left Berbatov in the shade yet again, but the Bulgarian's performance warranted more than a mention halfway down the undercard, so he deserved the acclaim generated by his 89th-minute diving header.
Fulham's late collapse might not have been so dramatic had defender Brede Hangeland not left the pitch with a chest injury and the Norwegian's condition will be assessed today.
Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, said: "He has a spasm at the moment, which is caused by the blow to the chest. It's difficult to assess exactly what that blow to the chest is.
"It affected us, having to reshuffle after going down to a goal so early in the second half, because he is a key figure in our team." (© Daily Telegraph, London)