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Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Writing may be on wall for Rooney


LONDON — Sir Alex Ferguson can be a good friend but a very bad enemy.

Christopher Davies

It is better to have the Manchester United manager on your side because the Scot has a memory that makes an elephant seem forgetful, which Wayne Rooney is discovering.

As Rooney recovers from a gash in a leg that may sideline him for up to two months, the striker would be well advised to take a long, hard look in the mirror before resuming his United career.

Last Saturday he was dropped for the first time for form reasons since his Everton debut 10 years ago. Rooney has been rested by Everton, United and England, but never left out because he was playing badly — until last weekend.

After an indifferent opening match against Everton, when United lost 1-0, Ferguson made Rooney a substitute against Fulham, with Robin van Persie leading the attack.

Rooney, who has been the most automatic of choices, now faces a battle to regain his place in the side when fit, and the 34 goals scored last season will count for nothing in Ferguson's eyes.

The relationship between manager and player is no longer the father-and-son type bond it once was.

Ferguson has never forgotten how, before signing a lucrative new contract two years ago, Rooney, who had handed in a transfer request, made critical comments, even accusing United of lacking ambition.

While the pragmatic Ferguson was never going to cut off his nose to spite his face and offload Rooney, the incident was logged in Ferguson's black book.

Last season Rooney was sent home from training in the build-up to the New Year's Eve game against Blackburn, which United lost.

Rooney, along with Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans, was fined and dropped after a breach of club rules relating to a night out with their respective partners.

Despite his goals, too often the England international failed to deliver in the big games. Ferguson was no longer prepared to make Rooney the focal point of the team, building the side around him. He became a player, not the player.

Because of Rooney's muscular build, his fitness levels must be 100 percent to be at his best, but after 10 years of playing at the highest level there are doubts whether he retains the inner drive and dedication to maintain the qualities that took him to the top.

Ferguson is on record as saying that if Rooney misses a couple of matches "it takes him three or four to come back."

By the time Rooney is fit again, van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, who looks to be one of the shrewdest bits of business of the transfer window, will have given United new attacking options.

At 26 Rooney should be at his peak, and while United is unlikely to consider the possibility of selling the striker until next summer, he knows that if Ferguson believes a player has dipped below the standards expected on or off the pitch, the Scot will have no hesitation in offloading him.

Ask David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane or Jaap Stam.

* * *

ENGLAND MANAGER Roy Hodgson will not have to worry whether most of his squad is fresh for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Moldova (away) and Ukraine (home) on Sept. 7 and Sept. 11.

Only one of England's four attackers — Spurs' Jermain Defoe — started the last Premier League game, while half of the eight midfielders have not been first-team regulars. It is a situation no other leading country in Europe experiences and underlines the dearth of English talent and the over-reliance on overseas players.

After two Premier League games, nine players had scored more than one goal for their clubs — of these, only Frank Lampard of Chelsea is English.

There is nothing Hodgson can do about this and as a former club manager he knows players are selected on talent, not passports.

Strikers Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea) and Danny Welbeck (Manchester United) have to play second fiddle to Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and Robin van Persie, respectively.

The squad has some promising youngsters in Birmingham goalkeeper Jack Butland, Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand and Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Hodgson will rely on the tried and trusted old guard that reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 on the road to Brazil.

Fifteen of the 23-man squad which played in the Euros will kickstart the World Cup campaign.

* * *

OF ALL THE summer transfers, Julio Cesar's from Inter Milan to Queens Park Rangers is the most intriguing.

In June, Rangers signed England goalkeeper Robert Green from West Ham on a two-year deal as a replacement for Paddy Kenny, who had joined Leeds.

Green made a howler on his debut as Swansea romped to a 5-0 victory at Loftus Road.

On Wednesday, Cesar, who has won 64 caps for Brazil, signed a four-year contract with QPR and will obviously be the first choice 'keeper.

While there are no guarantees in football, it seems Rangers decided very quickly that Green was not up to the job and brought in a replacement after just two league matches.

Green would not have agreed to join Rangers had he known he would be the backup goalkeeper and it is difficult to imagine manager Mark Hughes signed him to sit on the bench.

If QPR have realized Green was not the goalkeeper they hoped, at least they have acted quickly to rectify a rather expensive mistake.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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