He’s my hero of sorts, the integral piece of the attacking puzzle to my beloved Manchester United and my (adopted) country of England. He’s the bulldog who never gives up, the born leader with enough natural footballing talent to make the recently departed Cristiano Ronaldo raise an eye in disbelief and possibly realize United haven’t missed him quite as much as we all once thought.
He carries the hopes of a nation and doesn’t even mind. He shrugs off pressure like he shrugs off central defenders. He won’t slow down, he loves playing too much. He’s uncommonly balanced an incredible on-field and quiet off-field life, all the while being tipped as the next world great,….
Even heroes make mistakes.
As Paul Scholes was, well, Paul Scholes on Saturday, Manchester United unconvincingly found their way back to the summit of the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Wolves while neutrals and United fans simultaneously agreed on the deserved and well earned position that United have craved for some months. All this glory and pomp occurred in Wolverhampton, England at Molineux as the infallible Wayne Rooney was left home “unavailable” with a swollen knee.
The 24-year old Rooney was already struggling with a knee knock before last weekend’s Carling Cup final (wherein he scored the winning goal) but still found time to play 86 minutes in an International Friendly v Egypt on a disastrous Wembley pitch – a pitch so infamous it claimed another hammy as United striker and England old boy Michael Owen limped off in the same Carling Cup final where Rooney was hero with a season ending tear.
“I don’t think he should have played on Wednesday“, vented Sir Alex Ferguson. Without ten more Fergie quotes, the boss went on to let his discontent be known stating Rooney’s enthusiasm for all things “kicking a ball” as his potential downfall. This all raises the age old debate of club v country where countless footballers past, present and future have or will succumb to injury, or will fail to take valuable r&r when available (most recently see under Robin van Persie for the Netherlands and Arsenal, but the list is a mile long).
Reports suggest Rooney could now be out for the Champions League second leg return match at Old Trafford this Wednesday v AC Milan where United hold the slimmest of margins in the aggregate scoreline (3-2).
So, how do solve a problem like a’Rooney?
Ultimately it’s a conundrum that the finest footballing minds don’t necessarily want to tackle, how do you slow down a lion that doesn’t want to be stopped? It’s Rooney’s thirst for football, his work rate, his passion, his competitive nature and his addiction to performing at the highest possible level, at least in this situation, that has eventually been his downfall. The proof is all there, he’s taken a risk (the England friendly) and will unfortunately have to pay a price (missing the Premier League match v Wolves and possibly the Champions League mach on Wednesday) before we know how serious the injury is.
Maybe this knee knock is minor, maybe he’ll return with enough strength to take United to the Champions League final and Premier League title, maybe he’ll lead England to the grandest prize in world football, trust me, I would take all three of those, but they’re concealed complexities that rest on deciding factors other than Wayne Rooney’s ability alone.
Was Rooney right in playing out 86 minutes last Wednesday for England in a game that in the grand scheme of England’s World Cup hopes didn’t mean much? Does Fabio Capello have any blame in this matter? Surely he knows how valuable Rooney is to Manchester United’s title hopes. England fans will remember seeing Chelsea’s Frank Lampard pulled after the half, why risk Rooney another 45 minutes with England fringe players ready and willing?
Does the sole responsibility come down to Rooney himself? Should he be able to manage his own playing time with country without Fergie butting in?
I believe Rooney should have played a much smaller part in the England friendly or pulled his name from availability all together. The week off would have been just what he needed as the business end of the season fast approaches. Ultimately this rest would have gone a long way to securing his World Cup fitness, he’ll need as much rest as possible between now and the summer.
What are your thoughts on the club v country debate?