Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has attempted to divert the pressure away from Wayne Rooney after the striker’s disappointing World Cup performance with England in South Africa. The United coach, 68, has blamed media pressure and England’s dismal tournament showing and not his 24-year-old forward.
Rooney failed to score and looked anything but fit in South Africa as England crashed out of the tournament in the first knockout round. Indeed, Rooney has not registered for club or country since suffering an ankle injury against Bayern Munich in March. The player insists he is fit, while England’s management crassly suggested that the problem lay in Rooney’s ‘mind’ as the former Everton player put together a string of disappointing performances in Africa.
Typical of the Scot, the United manager has sought to isolate Rooney from outside pressures in a manner that England could not, blaming the weight of expectation and not the player.
“There was such expectation,” United’s manager told SunTalk Radio.
“There was talk that he was going to be the player of the tournament. Don’t forget, that was the prelude to the whole thing. He was going to be the star, he was going to outshine them all: Messi, Ronaldo.
“So that level of expectation comes into it. And he’s not got great experience of the World Cup really. You wait, though. In four years’ time you will see a different player.”
Rooney’s performances were uncharacteristically leggy, with the player’s touch and passing poor in three of four matches. With no little irony the striker put in his best stint as Germany thrashed England 4-1 in the second round of the tournament. To little avail as Rooney failed to score in two World Cup finals in a row.
The 34-goal striker was remarkably techy too, chiding England fans for booing the team after the lifeless draw with Algeria in Cape Town and complaining of extreme boredom in Fabio Capello’s Rustenburg bootcamp.
But while Rooney’s below par showing in South Africa may have come to a surprise to the United coach, England’s early exit did not.
“I watched England’s games and I was baffled by what I saw, too, but I wasn’t totally surprised,” added Ferguson, who has turned down the England manager’s post on three occasions.
“There are a lot of factors – the burden of expectation, the fact they have been away a long time and the hard English season.
“They had an easy passage to South Africa. They qualified from a group which you’d have to say was a million to one that they wouldn’t qualify.
“Maybe it would have been better if England had been in a tougher group. Their build-up was huge. I feel for them because it was a burden.”
English failure is of little concern to Ferguson or United supporters now of course, with the Reds returning to pre-season training this week ahead of the new season. Rooney meanwhile will not join the group until at least the end of July after being handed 28 days rest by United.
Alongside Ferguson’s moral support, United’s management hope that a lengthy period of recuperation in the Caribbean will make sure Rooney returns to United far sharper than he showed during the World Cup.
But mental preparation for the new season is key too, with the player’s perceived failure highlighted by the media at home and abroad. Indeed, while only those England squad members who did not appear at the tournament can return home without the stain of failure, Rooney has borne the significant brunt of media scrutiny as the team’s pre-tournament ‘saviour’.
Unfortunately for United, England’s friendly with Hungary at Wembley on 11 August, in which Rooney is likely to play despite a short pre-season programme, may well come before any action on the pitch for the Reds.
A positive England fans’ reaction to the Scouser is not guaranteed. However, much like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo before him, Rooney will return to a hero’s welcome at Old Trafford next season.
He may well need it.