Ferguson’s regard for Rooney on the wane as he falls well back in the order
SOCCER:Diego Maradona undoubtedly meant well when, sitting in the same restaurant in the early hours of yesterday morning, he called over Wayne Rooney, unknotted his tie and offered it to the Manchester United player.
In ordinary circumstances, it would be easy to imagine it being framed and going straight on Rooney’s wall.
Except these, of course, were not ordinary circumstances. That gift from Buenos Aires will always, one suspects, have bittersweet memories for Rooney bearing in mind the subdued conversation on the table he was sharing with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.
Rio Ferdinand would later inform his near-four million Twitter following he had been unable to get a minute’s sleep, too wound up by the adrenaline, grievances and the sense, perhaps, there may not be too many opportunities for a player of his age to reach another Champions League final.
Giggs had an engraved memento to mark the night of his 1,000th appearance but, knowing what we do of his competitive spirit, it is tempting to wonder whether it may find its way into the bottom of a drawer.
Giggs, at 39, could be forgiven for having the occasional moment of insecurity himself, even if he had taken the game to Real Madrid like a man immune to the natural processes of age.
As for Alex Ferguson, his assistant, Mike Phelan, probably used the wrong word when he explained the manager’s absence from all post-match interviews on being too “distraught” to talk.
Other colleagues reported it being an issue of fury – “angrier than I’ve ever seen him,” to quote one long-standing employee – rather than the image Phelan had portrayed.
The non-appearance was because Ferguson, quite simply, did not trust himself to maintain a sense of control when television cameras were there to record the moment.
What can be said with certainty is Cuneyt Cakir, a 36-year-old insurance agent from Istanbul, has gone straight into page one of Ferguson’s little black book of refereeing demonology, just above David Elleray, Martin Atkinson and the rest
Now it is the man whose past eight games in Turkey have brought 36 yellow cards and three reds and who left the Old Trafford pitch with Ferguson jabbing a finger in his direction from the touchline and spitting out vitriol.
Complaining to Uefa would be a futile exercise and, for their own dignity, it should be hoped United do not attempt to prolong the argument.
Their grievances have some foundation bearing in mind Nani, almost certainly, did not connect with Alvaro Arbeloa deliberately. Even so, being an accident did not remove the fact that one player’s studs connected with an opponent’s ribs.
One ex-pro, while sympathising with Nani, put forward a cogent argument directly after the match in United’s pressroom that the player should have known the potential risks and tried to shield the ball as it dropped rather than plucking it from the skies.
That is easy to say, perhaps, with the benefit of the hindsight but, however unpopular it is, Graham Poll was probably right when he pointed out Cakir would be congratulated by Uefa’s refereeing assessors.
The controversy was so raw it tends to spare Ferguson greater scrutiny about the way Jose Mourinho outdid him tactically thereafter, far more decisive and effective with his substitutions. Yet Mourinho did, of course, have the extra man when, until that point, there were no obvious flaws in United’s structure and approach.
Their planning had been so meticulous they had even switched around the usual team announcements to try to get into Cristiano Ronaldo’s head.
Usually at Old Trafford it is the away line-up read out first. On this occasion the public announcer, Alan Keegan, was under instructions to start with the home team and finish with Madrid, changing the order of names as well to leave Ronaldo strategically until last.
“Kill him with love,” as Patrice Evra had said. Keegan ushered in the returning hero, “the magnificent number seven”, in a way more reminiscent of Michael Buffer setting up a world title fight at Madison Square Garden.
The volume, the loudest Ferdinand said he had ever heard at a football match, cranked up a few more notches and when the game started, just a few seconds later, Ronaldo gave the impression his mind was a little scrambled.
“Mentally, it was not easy,” Mourinho would later reflect. “I went back to Stamford Bridge after I left Chelsea; not easy. I played Porto; not easy. One day I will go back to the Bernabeu; not easy. So, for Cristiano, not easy.”
Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he still delivered the telling blows over the two games whereas Rooney, once the superior footballer, laboured in the Bernabeu, was not considered good enough to start the second leg and is now 5-2 with the bookmakers to leave in the summer on the back of “a flood of bets”.
Ronaldo did not even have to be at his best to remind us the difference between the two players these days feels more like a chasm. For Rooney, that is just a small part of it. It has been a fairly crushing experience that leaves him with a lot to contemplate.
His exclusion would once have brought outcry but now elicits regret, almost sadness, that for all his achievement he has not turned out to be the player English football had expected: the all-action hero who would terrorise players so devastatingly it would be barely conceivable Old Trafford could witness one of its top five European nights in the Ferguson era without him in the team. The player, one might say, Rooney used to be.
A player of Rooney’s selfless commitment and professional drive might flinch to hear United’s manager considered Danny Welbeck superior when it comes to tracking back opponents and, in this case, dropping on to Xabi Alonso to negate the most prolific supply line to Ronaldo.
That surely is one of Rooney’s great strengths even without the long, powerful stride of his younger colleague. As for their respective scoring threats, Welbeck is still refining his finishing. Rooney is the more reliable marksman by some distance.
Too much can be read into Ferguson’s curveball selections sometimes but, equally, just consider how desperate he was for Rooney to be bandaged up to face Bayern Munich in the 2010 quarter-final. Ferguson gave the impression a 40 per cent Rooney was still the first player on his teamsheet.
Robin van Persie’s impact has been brilliant at times, though he has been showing telltale signs of weariness recently and has only one goal in his past eight appearances.
Whatever the grievances about Cakir, there is another moment that will surely linger in Ferguson’s thoughts. It was in the 71st minute of the first leg in Madrid, at 1-1, when the ball fell perfectly into Van Persie’s path and he could not get a clean connection. His shot bobbled past Diego Lopez but Alonso hacked it off the goalline.
Van Persie has lost a little of the sheen at just the wrong time. Welbeck has two goals all season and Rooney will have jarring memories when he looks at that dark-blue souvenir Maradona wanted him to take away.
Not on City won't renew Rooney interest
Manchester City have no desire to revive their interest in Wayne Rooney despite the uncertainty over his future at Manchester United with the player’s reputed €350,000-a-week salary pricing them out of the market.
City came close to signing the forward in October 2010 when Rooney agitated for a move away from Old Trafford, claiming the club lacked ambition.
But despite the wealth at City, they are not prepared to match the salary which, with add-ons, is believed to be around €350,000 a week.
Since the collapse of the proposed deal more than two years ago, Uefa’s financial fair play regulations have been introduced and, with City’s intent to adhere to these, they would have to free up a sizeable chunk of their player wage bill to be able to offer Rooney similar terms.