West Ham boss Slaven Bilic wary of possible Wayne Rooney return
Published 12/04/2016 | 22:36
Slaven Bilic is hoping Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney does not make his long-awaited comeback against West Ham on Wednesday after labelling the striker the best England player of his era.
Rooney, 30, is in contention to play some part of United's FA Cup quarter-final replay against the Hammers at Upton Park having played an hour for the Under-21 side on Monday.
The United and England skipper has been missing with a knee injury since a 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on February 13 but manager Louis van Gaal hinted he could be involved in the cup tie.
Rooney, like the Red Devils as a whole, has struggled this season and has scored just seven Barclays Premier League goals - seeing his starting berth for England brought into question given the goalscoring form of both Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane.
United sit fifth in the table - four points adrift of Manchester City in fourth spot - and were beaten 3-0 at Tottenham on Sunday.
They return to London as underdogs against a West Ham side looking to win their final ever cup tie at Upton Park ahead of their summer move to the Olympic Stadium.
But Irons boss Bilic is a big fan of Rooney and insists he would be happy to see England's all-time leading goalscorer sit out the contest altogether.
Asked if Rooney had a point to prove given his lack of goals, Bilic replied: "I don't know about that.
"To be fair I am a massive Rooney fan. Since he stepped on the pitch in an Everton shirt. He is for me - I don't know, I can't talk about Jimmy Greaves or Bobby Charlton or Bobby Moore or any of them - let's say my football era, Rooney is the best English player.
"I would rather him not play, put it that way. 100 per cent, 70 per cent fit, I would rather him watch the game.
"He played last night, him and Phil Jones. I don't know. On one hand, most of the teams on a good run, they don't change the team a lot.
"Now because they lost 3-0 we really don't know who's going to play, is it going to be Rooney from the start, is it going to be (Marouane) Fellaini, is it going to be (Ander) Herrera? Is he going to change a lot or stick to the team?
"We don't know. So it makes it harder for us. But we aren't going to change the team because of them."
West Ham sit just a point and a place behind Wednesday's visitors in the Premier League table and still have to face Van Gaal's side in what is scheduled to be the last-ever competitive fixture at Upton Park when they meet in the league next month.
United's season has been a forgettable one so far - but Bilic knows they can turn on the style at the drop of a hat and that a Wembley semi-final date with Everton on April 23 is anything but a given.
When asked if United had lost their fear factor, the Croatian said: "Yes, but they can get that fear factor back during the game.
"To get it back on paper you need a good run, you need five games, you need big wins against big clubs, to get it back before the game.
"But during the game, they can get it back like this. And they have done it so far. What worries me a little bit is that every time they were there, they got a result. Whether against Liverpool at the beginning of the season, or against Arsenal, every time.
"So make no mistake. We know that. Of course we are not going to make our players be afraid of them, no. But respect them.
"We know who is coming. They are capable, of course they are capable. They have played hundreds of games like we are going to face tomorrow night, those players."