Wayne Rooney is set to face Rangers on Tuesday as Manchester United open their 2010-11 Champions League season at Old Trafford. United will be favored to finish first in a group which features the Scottish champions, Valencia and Bursaspor of Turkey.
The news of Rooney’s return just a few days removed from the weekend doesn’t come as a surprise as his absence in United’s 3-3 away draw at Everton was either a meticulous stroke of coddling by manager Sir Alex Ferguson, or a message sent to the players at Manchester United that no one player is bigger than the club itself.
Regardless of Ferguson’s intentions, he was incorrect in his handling of Rooney as allegations concerning his private life were absurdly splashed upon newspapers across the country. In hindsight, Ferguson’s trepidation at the thought of his star man being subjected to a torrent of vitriol and abuse and his subsequent dropping of Rooney had no lasting negative effect upon the team’s performance.
United held a 3-1 lead over Everton late in the game with three points all but in the bag until an epic capitulation allowed a determined Everton the point United gifted them. The flaw associated with Ferguson’s detractors, at least in this case, is that Rooney’s absence didn’t cause United to draw the match. The United attack led by Darren Fletcher and Nani in midfield and Dimitar Berbatov up front looked as sharp and dangerous on the counter as it has all campaign, yet this very performance by United’s attack has shielded the error of Ferguson’s ways.
Had United tapped out to Everton at 1-0 or gone on to loose 2-0, the Sunday morning headlines would have been dominated by Fergie’s gaffe. Ferguson got away with dropping Rooney because United scored three goals, plain and simple. But the three goal haul shouldn’t mask Ferguson’s mistake in leaving Rooney away for personal reasons. Rooney, a multi-million pound earning footballer, is not paid to feel comfortable away from Old Trafford. He’s employed by a football club based on his skill playing football and should be picked when fit in order to aid his team to the best of his abilities in winning a football match.
Ferguson’s compassion towards Rooney is all well and good as it pertains to the human element of the circumstance. Yet supporters of United, Ferguson’s proponents and football fans in general shouldn’t allow Fergie the chance to pull the wool over their unsuspecting eyes. Rooney performed just fine in two Euro 2012 qualifiers last week, one in London at Wembley while the other was away in Basel, Switzerland. But it wasn’t Rooney’s form that was in question, it was the potential abuse likely directed at the former Everton youngster.
Yet Rooney gets stick every year United travel to Goodison, away at Anfield, and throughout Europe in the Champions League. The ‘attention’ Rooney receives from opposition supporters and his ability to handle it is a bullet point on the old job description if there ever was one. Part of Rooney’s job is the ability to deal with the intense pressure associated with the disapproval he’ll hear during a big match away from home. The very reason Rooney should be used to this kind of treatment makes his exclusion from the squad a distinct possibility that Ferguson dropped him to send a message and to prove an unneeded point while risking a United result as their best creative player watched on television.
If Ferguson dropped Rooney because he wanted to send the England international a message, then at what end is that message sent deemed a success? If a lack luster United attack stumbled and stuttered away from home resulting in their first loss of the season, would Fergie’s point be worth the 0 points gained from such an important away match?
Football fans will never truly know the origin of Rooney’s exclusion from the squad, only Ferguson himself knows and what’s done is done. His absence may ultimately be a small blip on the radar of a long and daunting season attempting to wrestle the title back from Chelsea. As the champions face Blackpool this weekend while United host Liverpool, and with a four point gap already between the two, all involved will want the issue behind them as soon as possible while the lasting effect of the two points dropped away to Everton may be felt for quite some time.