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It's a Spanish Inquisition

Wayne Rooney's season of misery shows little sign of an uplift, with Alex Ferguson last night ruling the troubled Manchester United forward out of England's next fixture.

An ankle problem will preclude the 24-year-old's involvement in the European Championship qualifying fixture against Montenegro on October 12.

While a spell away from prominence may help Rooney to repair the relationships fractured by allegations about his private life, Fabio Capello is unlikely to be overjoyed, given that the England manager is already lacking several senior players.

United will also be affected. Rooney was already unavailable for tonight's Champions League fixture against Valencia and will not travel to the Stadium of Light this weekend.

Along with their talisman, Ryan Giggs, both Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are not present in Spain, where Ferguson's team have won just one of their 18 matches and failed to score in their past three visits.

Ferguson's irritation at the lingering fascination with Rooney's wellbeing -- whether physical or emotional -- was obvious.

"I think Wayne will be out for two to three weeks," the United manager said. "In fairness, he's a strong lad and he's recovered well from injures in the past. What do you want me to say? Christ. Nobody likes to be injured, it's straightforward."

There are moments -- and that was one of them -- when the years evaporate and Ferguson resembles his former self, the lean, bolshy Govan shop steward, defending his turf. On the eve of a general strike in Spain over government spending cuts, the Scot reverted to type, bringing follow-up queries about Rooney to a swift halt.

Industrial or not, action of some sort is required by United, who have begun the campaign in patchy form. In retrospect, it is unsurprising that Ferguson chose to miss only his third United game of his 24 years at Old Trafford in order to attend Valencia's 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid, given that the Spanish club lead La Liga after selling players worth £87 million.

About £400 million in debt and with their plans for a new stadium still gridlocked, Valencia should be in the throes of crisis, having lost David Villa and David Silva. But, reinvigorated by Unai Emery, the coach who excelled at Almeria, they have emerged as a stronger team. Although they have yet to play either Real Madrid or Barcelona, their position is merited.

Unbeaten in 11 home European matches, Valencia, who thrashed Bursaspor 4-0 in their opening group tie, will present United with a formidable challenge.

Resilience has been an issue for Ferguson's side, who have conceded nine goals in their six games in the Premier League and for whom Ferdinand is an inconsistent presence.

Ferdinand spent most of yesterday's flight from Manchester on his feet, stretching.

Whether that is an indication of his likely involvement at the Estadio Mestalla, Ferguson would not say, although he praised Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, who made up the centre-half pairing for the 2-2 draw away to Bolton Wanderers. Of United's past 102 games, Ferdinand has missed 60.

"Rio's been out for five months and that's why we didn't risk him against Bolton," Ferguson said.

"We felt it was going to be a physical game and Vidic and Evans have done very well."

Ferguson will not be surprised by Valencia, having seen them in person. "When the draw was made we had to recognise where the danger was," he said. "We expect a very difficult game."

Scholes faces ten days on the sidelines with a minor calf injury. "You don't want to lose your best players, that goes without saying," Ferguson said. "It's a big decision to leave him behind."


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