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Rooney answers critics loud and clear

Problem solved. For now. The gathering cloud around Wayne Rooney was blown away by two goals, badge-kissing fervour and a chance for Alex Ferguson to slap the press in a way that also sent a message to the leader of Manchester United's pack.

"There's absolutely no problem with Wayne Rooney. I've told Wayne, the press have got another (Paul) Gascoigne, another headline maker, and he's going to suffer from that," Ferguson said. "He's got to handle it."

United and England have expended much energy over the last seven years reassuring the public that Wazza is no Gazza. Ferguson's point has less to do with emotional stability than the scorching spotlight that always settles on England's most gifted player.

Both are fond of a scrape, but there is no comparison between Rooney's occasional binges and the serious psychological disorders that have stalked Gascoigne all his life.

City's main torturer yesterday has an infinitely stronger sense of self. Too strong, sometimes, which is why Ferguson had to demote him for the Blackburn game after his St Stephen's Day night out and withdraw him at Newcastle when United were 2-0 down.

A swipe at the media for speculating about Rooney's future served a second, deeper purpose. It told United's talisman not to play fast and loose with the crest he kissed after meeting an Antonio Valencia cross with his head nine minutes into this drama-popping match.

Manchester is blessed with a modern rivalry that balances history against ambition and brings the rest of us controversial dismissals, see-sawing action and comebacks from legends only recently cast in sepia.

Rooney claims the United players knew nothing about Paul Scholes' return until they gathered in the dressing-room for this FA Cup third-round tie.

But if a shortage of activity at the top of the transfer market is displeasing Rooney still, he was evidently not discouraged by the sight of old Scholesy pulling on the No 22 shirt eight months after he retired to join the junior coaching staff.

Rooney burst onto the field here animated by several grievances. One was United's 6-1 Premier League defeat at Old Trafford. The other was towards the press.

But talk of friction between him and Ferguson was not contrived. A team's leading scorer is not fined a week's wages and sent to the executive boxes to watch a game if there is complete harmony between star and manager.

Ferguson knew the risk he was taking by dropping Rooney against Blackburn. It was bound to enter the public realm. Extrapolations about imminent departures were sure to follow. The main prediction of permanent rupture carried a highly respected byline.

On the hostile side of town, Rooney's mood might have swung either way, but it turns out Ferguson was right to expect a fresh demonstration of the 26-year-old's competitive spirit.

His header for United's opener was superbly controlled. It conveyed all the authority and athleticism lacking in his performance against Newcastle. Rooney wheeled away, kissing and pulling at his badge. His penalty seven minutes before the interval was more fortunate: a headed second-chance from Costel Pantilimon's initial save.

Consider also his excitable response to the two-footed challenge that brought Vincent Kompany's dismissal with only 12 minutes on the clock.

Thrilled by the City centre-back's imminent departure, Rooney raised his arms in a 'v' as if celebrating a goal. This was his version of the wink: Cristiano Ronaldo's crafty eye-gesture to the bench in the England-Portugal 2006 World Cup quarter-final. It was no more sporting, either. Not that he will care. Anger can drive him two ways: into self-absorption or rampant destruction of the opposition.

"Everything which had been in the press is a load of nonsense," he complained. "There are no problems with me at this club. I want to be at this club for a long time."

A residue of unease from the contract stand-off of October 2010 will always be there and Rooney himself is inclined to stir it with breaches of discipline and high-handedness towards his team-mates. Certainly Ferguson will not tolerate a second wave of moaning about United's transfer dealings. Nor would the rest of the squad. Feelings ran high after Rooney last paraded a superiority complex and doubled his money in the process.

Ferguson went on the club's in-house MUTV yesterday to say: "We must explain about Rooney. He is a headline maker. Whether it is good or bad, the press don't mind. We had this situation and experience many years ago with Paul Gascoigne.

"This is the new Paul Gascoigne. A headline maker, but we are better seeing like he was today, with the good stuff. Any flaws and Wayne will be absolutely annihilated by the press, but that's what they're like and that's the animal we are dealing with.

"But he gave a magnificent performance today. I have no problem with the boy. No problem at all. It's just that off the field he is going to be spotlighted all the time."

This is vintage Ferguson. A smack for the press and a warning and praise for Rooney, all at the same time. Equally, the manager was dismissive of United's second-half display, thus moving pre-emptively against the kind of complacency that ended their Champions League campaign at the group stage.

Avoiding a third consecutive defeat was a professional duty which almost came unstuck with City's rousing fightback. For the noisy neighbours not to subdue the grand old people next door into a morose silence, United needed the demonic glint to be back in Rooney's eye.

They also needed the Scholes comeback to be more than a desperate summoning of old talents from the coaching rooms.

Within a quarter of an hour Scholes was blowing like a commuter who had run just a bit too fast to catch a bus, but his calming influence and passing will be valuable between now and May.

United are not the Wayne Rooney show, anyway. Danny Welbeck's energetic performance in the centre-forward position offered more glimpses of a talent Ferguson promised was always there. Now they need consistent thrust from the wide-men, Antonio Valencia and Nani, and they need some of their many invalids back.

City were Rooney's intended destination until the U-turn of 16 months ago. Now, though, Sheikh Mansour's people are adamant they have no current interest in signing a player whose acquisition would bring them yet more problems in relation to Uefa's financial fair-play rules.

Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko now fill the gap Rooney might have plugged. That could change, but order seems restored. Managerial psychology and Rooney's own pride were a potent winning force in this whirligig of a match. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent