How Rooney kick-started United’s title bid

When it comes to nominating a Footballer of the Year, there is an argument for saying it should not be Wayne Rooney.
Rooney celebrates a goal. Net photo.
Rooney celebrates a goal. Net photo.

When it comes to nominating a Footballer of the Year, there is an argument for saying it should not be Wayne Rooney.

This, after all, is the player who has jeopardised England’s chances at Euro 2012 with the red card he received in Podgorica last October. Who kicked out wildly at Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic and so managed to get himself suspended for the first two group games.

Has Robin van Persie done anything that rash and reckless? Has Paul Scholes?

But then comes the defence. For a start there was Rooney’s reaction on the pitch that night. There was no argument with the referee, only an expression of regret as he walked across the pitch towards the tunnel.

And then, two months later, there was the case Fabio Capello made for Rooney when he appeared before a UEFA appeal hearing in Nyon.

In that private meeting came the then England manager’s mea culpa.

Capello admitted that, having realised Rooney was struggling to deal with the dramatic news of the day before when his father and uncle were arrested over an alleged betting scam, he should have taken him off at half-time.

‘He is paying for my mistake,’ the Italian told the disciplinary panel, and they responded by reducing a three-match ban to two.

On Rooney’s return from Montenegro his manager at Manchester United had also defended him.

‘It was one of these, how do you put it, reflex actions by the boy,’ said Sir Alex Ferguson.

‘But he’s shown tremendous improvement in terms of his temperament over the past few years. As maturity comes along, then it brings the responsibility, which he is improving all the time.’

It means nothing, of course, if Rooney reoffends. It just sounds like the blind loyalty of a manager who always stands by his man.

Only there has been a tremendous improvement, as Rooney has demonstrated since the night of that Euro 2012 qualifier. In the 29 games he  has contested for his club since October 7, Rooney has not been booked. He has scored 21 goals, and made a huge contribution to a side who go into tonight’s match at Wigan eight points clear in a Barclays Premier League title race that looks all but over.

But Rooney has done so without courting controversy or incurring the wrath of match officials or opponents. Only he can tell us if that night in Podgorica amounted to some kind of epiphany.

Maybe he has been shaken into change by the embarrassment of getting himself ruled out of those matches with France and Sweden.

Whatever the reason, Rooney appears to be a reformed character. He is now 26, a father, and someone on whom Ferguson has certainly been able to rely this season. He has been booked just once for United all season, away to Benfica in the Champions League three weeks before that encounter with Montenegro.

Instead, he has channelled his energy and talent in the most positive way. There have been 32 goals for club and country this season, with hat-tricks against Arsenal and Bolton among some outstanding displays.

There can no longer be a debate about whether Rooney should be one of the 23 names the England manager selects for Poland and Ukraine. He has to be there, the finest player in the England side and someone whose services will be required come that third group game against Ukraine.

By then he will almost certainly be an English champion for a fifth time, and while the title is not a prerequisite for becoming the Footballer of the Year it gives extra weight to a compelling argument for Rooney.

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