Give Rooney time to end goal drought -- Ferguson
A MERE 145 days ago, Wayne Rooney was about to record his 19th goal in 14 games for Manchester United, sustaining a remarkable run of form that appeared destined to flow like a torrent through to the World Cup final, enabling Alex Ferguson's team to sweep all before them to a Premier League and Champions League double on the way.
Then came the 'Sliding Doors' moment, the split-second that changed everything and hauled Rooney back from the brink of immortality.
Had he allowed the covering Ryan Giggs to check the run of Mario Gomez deep into stoppage-time against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, Rooney would not have mistimed his challenge on the German forward and he would have escaped the damage to his right ankle sustained after his attempted intervention.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet Rooney made the tackle, rolled his ankle, tweaked the tendons and he has not scored, or resembled his true self on a football pitch, since.
Rather than when will he stop scoring, the question now revolves around when Rooney will emerge from what has developed into the longest goalless run of his career.
As he prepares to face Fulham at Craven Cottage tomorrow, revised Opta figures show that Rooney's current goal drought stands at 1,081 minutes -- 79 minutes longer than his barren run during the 2005-06 campaign. Whichever way the figures are spun, they make grim reading for Rooney, United and England -- 13 games, 1,081 minutes, 18 hours and one minute.
Nothing since March 30.
Famously protective of his players, Ferguson will never hang one of his own out to dry by condemning their failings, but while the United manager insists that Rooney will come good once again, he concedes that the 24-year-old is as frustrated as any forward by his lengthening fruitless streak.
"I say it time and time again; strikers live by their goals," Ferguson said.
"When they are not scoring, they think it is never going to come. Then, when they (goals) come, they think they are never going to finish. That is normal with any forward.
"They are quite straightforward people and Wayne is no different from any other kind of striker. They want to score and, when they are not scoring, they think it is never going to happen.
"But Wayne is one of the best strikers in the world. He is still young, still progressing and still learning."
Rooney's dismal World Cup, when his failure to score was almost a secondary issue to his listless performances, remains unexplained.
Fatigue following a lengthy season, rather than lingering problems with the ankle and groin injuries that punctured his momentum last spring, and the burden of carrying the hopes of an overhyped team are believed to be the primary factors behind his inability to produce his best form in South Africa.
A lack of players within Fabio Capello's squad of the quality and experience of United team-mates Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs -- and, crucially, the injury-enforced withdrawal of close friend Rio Ferdinand -- also contributed. Rooney at times appeared isolated and exposed before England were dispatched by Germany in the second round.
Rene Meulensteen, United's first-team coach, dismisses suggestions, however, that Rooney's loss of form is anything more than the player experiencing the peaks and troughs of a top-level career.
Meulensteen said: "It is not in his head and it is not a mental thing. There is no problem about that.
"Wayne is a fighter and a strong person and he will get back on top.
"Sometimes in life and football you hit disappointing experiences and you have to get up and move forward. He is doing that. Against Newcastle (on Monday) he did some fantastic things.
"I can't look into what Wayne thinks but, for him, it was a massive disappointment in South Africa.
"He had a fantastic season and then the World Cup comes and he has a bad time. Just because you have a bad World Cup, you don't turn into a bad player."
While the focus on Rooney becomes more intense with every minute that passes without a goal, Ferguson is relaxed about the issue, believing that last season's 34-goal top scorer will quickly rediscover his form.
And the Scot points to Rooney's lack of game time since returning to training on July 28 as a key factor in his search for his previous sharpness.
Ferguson said: "Wayne has only had an hour's football. It's not a lot in terms of your normal programme before you start the season.
"Dimitar (Berbatov) took part in all of the pre-season games in America, so his fitness is assured and he was excellent against Newcastle on Monday night.
"And the likes of Giggs and Scholes, and the rest of the players who were on the pre-season tour have all had plenty of games. Their fitness is not an issue.
"But Michael Owen, Michael Carrick, Wayne, Antonio Valencia and Nani have not had the minutes they really require to be able to compete or get proper match fitness.
"They will be much better at Fulham on Sunday." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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