Rooney in the firing line
WAYNE ROONEY will not need to drive past the terraced houses that surround Goodison Park this lunchtime to wonder about the sentiment in the saying 'there is no place like home'.
Alex Ferguson might have stumbled into a humorous double-entendre yesterday by declaring that he wanted to "put that to bed" when asked about Rooney's situation, but the player's concerns, both within the walls of his Cheshire mansion and the confines of Goodison today, are unlikely to force a rueful grin on to the 24-year-old's face.
Following a week in which his life has been turned upside down by allegations surrounding his private life, home is probably the last place he wants to be.
The Manchester United forward thrived in the neutral environment of Basle when he blanked out the furore of front-page headlines to score for England against Switzerland in midweek, but Goodison, home of his boyhood idols and the club he left in acrimonious circumstances when moving to United six years ago, will be ready to bait and torment its former hero.
So much for football offering Rooney an escape from the pressures of domestic life.
Yet Ferguson has negotiated enough minefields generated by negative headlines during his 24 years as United manager to know how to handle the situation. Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo have all given Ferguson cause to circle the wagons at Old Trafford.
Beckham, castigated by opposition supporters after his dismissal against Argentina during the 1998 World Cup, was a beneficiary of Ferguson's protective arm and he insists that the United manager is the perfect man to guide Rooney through his personal storm.
"Wayne is definitely with the right team and manager to be able to cope with any situation," Beckham said. "I know that from personal experience. It is a club and a team that will put an arm around you, look after you and support you."
Tellingly, when asked for his observations on Rooney's readiness to cope with the Goodison cauldron during his pre-match press conference yesterday, Ferguson reverted to his tried-and-tested formula of throwing up the barriers.
"I am not discussing any of my players personally, okay?" Ferguson said, in response to questions about Rooney. "Let's put that to bed. Everyone is fit. Okay? I am not going into that (Rooney's state of mind).
"The atmosphere is always good at Everton and it would not matter if we had Dixie Dean playing for us. It is always a nightmare going there."
Viewed by supporters as having betrayed Everton by leaving Goodison for Old Trafford in 2004, Rooney has endured vitriolic personal abuse on the occasions that he has returned to the stadium with United.
The venom towards Rooney has subsided in recent seasons, however, thanks largely to the player publicly ending a rift with Everton manager David Moyes. Moyes has also played the peacemaker, offering conciliatory words towards Rooney and suggesting the 24-year-old could yet finish his career with Everton.
Having trained for three days since returning from Switzerland, Rooney is set to be thrust into the starting line-up after completing a full session on Thursday before lining up alongside Dimitar Berbatov in a tactical session yesterday.
Ferguson's views on the allegations surrounding United's talisman are unlikely to be aired in public, however, and Moyes proved similarly reluctant to offer an opinion on his former player.
"If you are a good football journalist, you don't ask that question," Moyes said. "If you are a gossip journalist, then you ask that question. I am only interested in talking about the game and that is what I will do."
Moyes conceded, however, that the reception awaiting Rooney inside Goodison might not be as malevolent as it once was, regardless of this week's headlines.
"I think the hostility has changed," Moyes said. "Wayne was keen to play for Everton in Jamie Carragher's testimonial last Saturday, but he couldn't take part as he was on international duty. I don't think it (playing at Everton) has anything to do with his mental character."
Rooney's record at Goodison in a United shirt is chequered. He has played in five of six Premier League visits since leaving for United, scoring in two victories and suffering defeat twice. But his ability to perform under intense scrutiny was evident in Switzerland and Mikel Arteta, the Everton midfielder, claims Rooney remains a threat.
"Top players can react and show what they are able to do," Arteta said. "Wayne is a terrific player. We respect him a lot."
Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, could feature for United today. Ferdinand has been sidelined by a knee ligament injury but has impressed his manager in training this week.
"Rio's training performances are so good that he is in the squad now and he is fit to play," Ferguson said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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