Sport Premier League

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Fergie, not Rooney, blinks first faced by hatred of the mob


James Lawton

James Lawton

IF Alex Ferguson ever imagined the Wayne Rooney problem permitted a swift, and less than candidly reported solution, he knows a lot better now.

For a little while the Manchester United manager may have thought he had produced wisdom worthy of Solomon, but two minutes can be a long time, both in football and life.

Rooney has had plenty of time to ponder since his apparently fleeting bouts of adultery were revealed, but for Ferguson it came with the speed and the force of a hammer blow.

One moment he was congratulating himself on the triumphant handling of one of the most difficult hands ever dealt to him.

Then the cards were strewn all over the floor except for the Joker that circumstances, and perhaps his own mistake, had pinned on his forehead.

His claim that his decision to leave out Rooney had been based entirely on a desire to shield him from the "terrible abuse" of a hate-filled crowd was immediately disputed, not only by sources reportedly close to the player's circle but also Ferguson's friend and admirer, Everton's David Moyes, who declared: "Maybe the manager just felt it was the right decision not to play him; maybe he thought he was not playing that well; maybe he thought that he wanted to play but he had to leave somebody out and his (Rooney's) games hadn't been so good.

"So I don't think you should put it all on the crowd. The manager knows. Maybe he was just making sure everybody realises that if you play for Manchester United you have to conduct yourself in a (certain) manner, and the football club doesn't really care who you are."

Talk about a bouquet of barbed wire for Ferguson to sling on the refuse pile. Not only did he lose the points that United should have comfortably gathered in, he was damned on almost any charge put before the court.

If Rooney's omission was about veiled discipline, it was coated in evasion that left us -- and maybe Rooney himself -- some way from beholding an act of authority, moral or otherwise.

If it had indeed been about protecting his player from the worst that the Everton fans could produce, Ferguson now has to deal with the complaint that when faced with the cry of the mob he -- rather than the combative Rooney -- blinked.

Yet Ferguson had had reason enough to take the optimistic view in those euphoric moments before Everton's Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta struck so late.

He was two goals up with barely two minutes to play. Rooney was back in his mansion negotiating with his wife Coleen for a resumption of family life. Possibly best of all, a horde of tormentors on the Goodison Park terraces had been left with an anti-climactic choice between watching a football match -- a rather superb one as it turned out -- or playing with the inflatable doll some intellectual giant had brought in order to top up Rooney's misery.

In the end what we had was an at times beautiful match played against the ugliest possible backcloth.

Perhaps the immutable bottom line was that, whatever he did, Ferguson was bound to be damned in one corner of the argument or another.

One theory is that the Old Trafford manager has performed the first act in an inevitable casting aside of a star player who has simply attracted too much attention to himself for the wrong reasons.

The names of former favourites David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have been fed into the equation, for reasons not immediately obvious, at least not here.

Beckham was engulfed in the celebrity lifestyle that he embraced from the moment of his marriage to Posh Spice and Ferguson concluded that his performances no longer justified all the distractions. Ronaldo wore a permanent pout in his last season at United, clearly wishing to be at Real Madrid.

Rooney plainly presents a different kind of problem. His form was superb last season before dissolving in injury in March and, who knows for sure, the prospect of some devastating need to deal under a ferocious public glare with past misdeeds.

A lull in contract discussions between Rooney and the club, which if maintained would lead to a progressive decline in his value to a United forced to sustain itself under the massive weight of interest payments, is the latest strand in a skein of speculation. There is even talk of his decamping, like Ronaldo, to Real Madrid.

What isn't in doubt, at least, is that at 24 Rooney remains both a formidable talent and one capable of playing under huge personal pressure, something he established impressively with performances for England against Bulgaria and Switzerland, when he announced himself once again as the nation's outstanding creative football talent.

Such quality is not likely to disappear in the passing, one way or another, maelstrom of his family life. Nor is Ferguson's belief in this order of ability. No doubt we will get a clearer view of the situation tomorrow night when Rangers arrive at Old Trafford for the opening round of Champions League games.

Rooney is certain to play, we are assured. If he does, it is reasonable to expect a somewhat more tolerant crowd reaction than the one he'd have faced at Goodison Park. This, Ferguson swears, was the priority in the strategy that dammed the hate. And delayed, in any way you look at it, a moment of truth.

The Rooney question aside, United can only blame themselves for their collapse. Twice they failed to cut out crosses from the left by Leighton Baines and on both occasions paid the price.

Cahill rose between Jonny Evans and O'Shea to power home a header in the first minute of injury-time before the Australian again jumped the highest moments later, nodding the ball into the path of Arteta, who fired home.

Everton were the better team for the first half-hour, taking a deserved lead in the 39th minute. Patrice Evra failed to clear Cahill's long punt and, though Arteta's shot was saved by Edwin van der Sar, the rebound fell to Leon Osman, who set up Steven Pienaar for an easy finish.

Within four minutes either side of half-time, though, United took a 2-1 lead, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic converting right-wing crosses from Nani before Berbatov, who missed two other great chances, scored an exquisite third, taking one touch from Paul Scholes' long pass before drilling past Tim Howard.

Irish Independent

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