Ahead of Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Wolves, which was a hard fought affair that we came close to drawing, Sir Alex Ferguson was critical of our star player, Wayne Rooney. After struggling for fitness three days earlier in the League Cup final, and seeing team mate Michael Owen pick up an injury on the disgraceful pitch, Rooney played 86 minutes for England in a friendly, on that same dodgy pitch.
“Playing on that pitch for almost an hour on Sunday and then almost the full 90 minutes on the Wednesday, it’s far too much,” Ferguson said. “I was disappointed more with Wayne. He didn’t come off, I couldn’t believe it. He should have signalled to the bench he wanted to come off. I don’t blame Fabio Capello at all – but don’t forget he was not supposed to be playing at all. That’s what Wayne told us on Sunday because he was feeling his knee. Then all of a sudden people put an arm round his shoulder and he wants to play. I don’t think he should have played. His own enthusiasm has caused it. He can’t say ‘No’, that’s his problem.”
Rooney didn’t even travel to Wolves and in the tunnel before kick-off, Ferguson revealed that our striker might be crocked for the second leg of the AC Milan game.
It is Rooney’s two goals at the San Siro which has put us in such a favourable position for Wednesday, and it is his 23 Premiership goals that meant we could go top of the table in his absence after beating Wolves. There is no denying what a vital part of this team he is and his ability, work rate and passion make him a fans’ favourite.
But why on earth are we in a position that we could be without our best player for our most important game of the season so far? For the sake of a fucking International friendly? It’s pathetic. Aside from the fact United’s league title should be more important to Rooney than any game for England the moment, it would do Rooney good to remember who pays his wages. It would do Rooney good to remember that if there is any player who is guaranteed a spot on that plane to South Africa in the summer, it is him, and he has no need to impress Capello further.
Whilst we love that he loves to play the game, he does have to engage brain sometimes. He’s not some little kid who doesn’t understand the implications of being unavailable for his club.
So, what is Ferguson going to do? Usually I imagine he would play Rooney with a little niggle, obviously aware of how important he is to our success. But is he going to teach him an important lesson? Want to play 86 minutes in an England friendly on a shit pitch when you’re carrying an injury? Fine, but then you won’t get to play for United against AC Milan.
I’m not suggesting Ferguson should cut off his nose to spite his face here. We’re a better team with Rooney than we are without, that is obvious, and whilst we’re in a very good position going in to the Milan game, we’re not untouchable. But I also think Rooney needs to get his priorities straight sooner or later and realise he can’t play in every single game. We’re without Owen for the rest of the season now, Berbatov has been playing with a knee injury for most of the season (and it still looked to be causing him trouble at Wembley last week) and can’t afford another injury up front, particularly not to Wayne.
The more worrying point though might be that Ferguson doesn’t have a choice in whether he can play him or not, as it may not be just a niggle anymore.
I’ve heard people say that Ferguson is the one at fault here for not having appropriate cover, but Rooney, Berbatov, Owen and Diouf would have been good enough cover for the remaining 9 games of the season. There is no replacement for Rooney. Who do Arsenal have as cover for Fabregas? Who do Chelsea have as cover for Drogba? Who do Liverpool have as cover for Torres? Some players are just too good to have anything like an appropriate replacement.
Rooney is too good and we love him for it but now until the end of the season is going to be a right scrap, and after the horrendous defensive injuries we’ve suffered this season we simply cannot afford to go without Wayne, especially not for the sake of an International friendly.
Maybe if he has to watch the Milan game from the sidelines he won’t be putting United, and himself, in this situation again in the future.