United boss in awe of Rooney's great courage
WAYNE ROONEY was born to be a striker. His parents even considered naming him Adrian after Everton's Adrian Heath. His manager, Alex Ferguson, argued yesterday that Rooney was always going to become a "great'' striker because of one quality above all: "Courage,'' Ferguson declared.
A man who has experienced so much during more than a half-century in the professional game, who has worked with so many footballers, Ferguson would not lightly offer up an adjective like 'great'. He is simply stating what he sees as a matter of fact: great forwards like Rooney possess courage.' Ferguson also knows such praise will not go to his star player's head, that the fire will continue to burn brightly within his gifted but grounded No 10.
So much comment is being passed on Rooney, the player of the season so far, that it was vital to hear the verdict of the man who knows him best as a player. Ferguson's perception of courage embraces self-belief and strength of mind and body, traits readily apparent in Rooney's movement from first whistle to last.
Rooney has the mettle to play with his back to goal if required, to take the hits from centre-halves. He has the faith in his first touch to keep demanding the ball, however tight the space. He chases loose balls and lost causes without hesitation. He makes mistakes, but never hides, missing a sitter before knocking Manchester City out of the Carling Cup.
Even if Cesc Fabregas and Arsenal appropriate the ball for long periods of the latest 'Biggest Game Of The Season' tomorrow, Rooney will lead the resistance.
"All the greatest strikers have needed courage,'' reflected Ferguson, pausing before training at Carrington yesterday. "That's the one great component of their game they must have. Wayne has got that courage to play against modern-day defenders."
Trusting in his striker's character, Ferguson has had no compunction fielding Rooney as an out-and-out forward, a particularly profitable move against City. "We feel he is best as high up the pitch as possible because he has the strength, energy and courage to run in between players, run beyond players, to hold players off."
Ferguson mentioned his squad contained some "fantastic athletes,'' name-checking Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Patrice Evra and Darron Gibson. Asked whether Rooney might also prosper as a box-to-box midfielder because of that lung-power, Ferguson replied: "He could play there. He thinks he's a centre-half!''
Different players occupying different positions, Rooney and Fabregas could still share the spotlight at the Emirates, an Anglo-Spanish duel that could find a summer echo on the veld.
"They are two of the best players,'' agreed Ferguson before stressing, "but it is a league full of great players. Wayne has hit that great form now. Fabregas has always been the important player for Arsenal for the last few years."
Arsenal's tempo-setter will need to escape the attentions of Fletcher, a hard-working midfielder slated by Arsene Wenger for being "anti-football'' when the sides collided at Old Trafford in August. Ferguson and Wenger are presently on good terms, but United's manager remains annoyed at the Frenchman's denigration of Fletcher.
"I think that's where Arsene lets himself down. It's disappointing. I don't think he really believes that. Everyone knows Fletcher is not a dirty player, not a physical player. He's not built that way, but he can win the ball because his timing and energy to get to the ball are fantastic.
"He's competitive and there's not many players who run off the ball as well as him. His movement, energy and commitment every game is wonderful to see. Darren is not a stylish player by any means. He is ungainly and gangly, but he is a fantastic player.'' The will-to-win of Fletcher and Rooney will be tested tomorrow.
Wenger's men are in good form and any encounter between Arsenal and United tends to mimic the meeting of nitro and glycerine. Past skirmishes have brought everything from point deductions to fines, slanging matches to flying pizza. When Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were in their spiky prime, the teams did not even wait for the match to start one year, squaring up in the tunnel.
The individuals involved now are less combustible, but the stakes remain high. "Arsenal's history will always guarantee you a challenge,'' Ferguson said. "It's the biggest game of the season for me.''
United's manager hopes both sets of fans refrain from their less savoury chants. Wenger endures a particularly pernicious taunt from United fans.
Two seasons ago, Ferguson complained after Arsenal supporters shouted "Taggart'' at him. Arsenal placed a couple of extra stewards behind the away dug-out. Harry Redknapp has withstood some unpleasant barbs, while Phil Brown was called "Tango Man."
"I know there's been some terrible abuse from our fans to Arsene,'' Ferguson continued. "There must be a line drawn and they must know that themselves.''
United fans will be in good voice at the Emirates, but the champions need to keep the pressure on Chelsea. "It's a very, very competitive league. I wouldn't say we're certain to win the league or Chelsea are certain or Arsenal are certain. We all have a chance.''
Ferguson has still to "decide if we appeal'' Rio Ferdinand's four-game ban, although the champions are aggrieved at what they perceive is a lack of consistency. "I watched Charlton and Leyton Orient the other night and the Orient goal came after an elbow on the Charlton player three times and nothing happened, so there's a lot of confusion in terms of these decisions."
Ferguson added that he had signed Fulham's Chris Smalling "because he's got outstanding potential, got terrific height, good balance and he's quick''. United's manager insisted that Anderson, omitted recently, "will be in the squad'' tomorrow when all eyes will be on Ferguson's great striker, Wayne Rooney. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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