Rooney and the rest

The performance of Manchester United youngster Jesse Lingard emphasised the fact that even without Rooney, United are knee-deep in talented strikers. Who all too often, alas, come and go. By Brian Glanville .

How ironic, even significant, that scarcely had Wayne Rooney officially demanded a transfer from Manchester United than in far away Sydney, where Rooney had not gone, a 20-year-old Manchester United youngster Jesse Lingard, from nearby Warrington, scored two excellent, precocious goals against so called A-League All Stars Australian team. The first, coolly, taken when one on one with the opposing keeper, the second a fearsome shot from 18 yards. Just how many games he will get for United in the new season at Premier League or Cup level, who can say? But his performance emphasised the fact that even without Rooney, United are knee-deep in talented strikers. Who all too often, alas, come and go.

The word has been that Rooney resented the fact — or as some alleged exploited that fact — that David Moyes, the new United manager after all those years of Alex Ferguson, had stated, perhaps a little tactlessly, that the first choice striker this season would be Holland’s Robin van Persie; inevitably, given the profusion of goals he got last season. Not a mention, strangely, of the exuberant little Mexican Javier Hernandez, who, with a gifted Japanese challenging for the role just behind van Persie, must see his chances unhappily limited.

Another of United’s goals in Sydney was scored by the Manchester-born Danny Welbeck, a natural striker, still only 22, often picked for England, who sometime ably stick him out on the left wing. He, too, hardly guaranteed a regular first team place. And it was only a couple of seasons ago, that another 22-year-old, Federico Macheda, was making a spectacular debut for United at Old Trafford; but where is he — once on Lazio’s books in his native Rome — now?

The Rooney affair should not really come as a surprise; any more than the fact that Jose Mourinho, just starting his second spell in charge of Chelsea, publicly courted him, then saw that Chelsea put in a bid. Moyes insisted that Rooney was not for sale, but the words rang somewhat hollow. He and Rooney had fallen out long ago, when Rooney was a dazzling teenager at Everton, Moyes the manager. But the way Rooney was treated last season by Alex Ferguson surely put the writing on the wall.

Put bluntly, Ferguson humiliated Rooney, perhaps still smarting by the way that Rooney and his agent out-manoeuvred him three years ago, when Rooney publicly announced his dissatisfaction with United’s failure to strengthen the team, finally being cajoled with a GBP250,000 a week contract, which is still in force. Ferguson, however, is not a man prone to forgiving and forgetting and last season, not only stuck Rooney bizarrely out on the right wing in the Champions League at Real Madrid, but dropped him from the return game.

That Mourinho would prefer Rooney at centre forward to the diminished, over-expensive Spaniard, Fernando Torres, is hardly surprising. Yet, how much has the 27-year-old Rooney got to give? The goal he recently struck in Rio against Brazil was testimony to what he can do, when in form; but so far as England are concerned, how often has that been in recent years?

Never yet has he equalled his supreme displays in Portugal in the EURO finals of 2004. Had the Portuguese not kicked him out of the game early on, when the teams met in Lisbon, it was hard to think, as one who was there, that England would not have won the match, rather than lose merely on penalties and then, in all probability, gone on to win the tournament itself.

Since then, however, disappointment has prevailed. He was surely not fully fit when playing against Portugal, again in the EURO final, in 2006, but he jeopardised England’s chances by getting himself sent-off, for kicking out at an opponent. Something which was also his fare in Montenegro, in a qualifying game for the EURO finals of 2012. Which left him, plainly after suspension, short of match practice, unable to play for England in their first two games in the EURO finals and, though he did score a point blank goal against Ukraine, far below form.

Mourinho, clearly, has total confidence in him and he would surely for Chelsea inject more good than those two exorbitantly priced predecessors — both plainly bought at the behest of the oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich — Andriy Shevchenko (GBP30 million) and Torres (a crazy GBP50 million), just when his form at Liverpool was in plain decline.

Across Manchester, Edin Dzeko must be wondering what this season holds for him. The 6-foot 4-inch, Bosnian international began last season in a blaze of goals and with the departure to Juventus of the problematic Carlos Tevez, might well have thought the way clear for him to play as a regular first choice. But the new manager the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini has spent a cool GBP90 million on new players. Two of them are strikers; the incisive Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina, the Spaniard Alvaro Negredo from Sevilla.

While at Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas has understandably become restless at the limited amount of time he has been given on the field, with those two exceptional fellow Spaniards Iniesta and Xavi untouchable. Manchester United would dearly like to acquire this gifted player for their midfield. As we known, he left Barcelona as a teenager when Arsenal whipped him away and against expectations, turned him into an inspired successor in central midfield to the far bigger and more experienced Patrick Vieira. Arsenal purloined him you might say but subsequently they made him what he is. And as we know he even played successfully as a kind of decoy centre forward for Spain. Barcelona adamantly declared that they had no intention of selling him but we know how hard it is to keep a discontented player.

What, if anything, is the moral of all this? A pretty grim one. The huge wealth of a limited number of European clubs means that they can buy a galaxy of stars, then keep some of them constantly on the bench. However much they pay them.

Bad for the players, except of course, financially but above all, bad for football because the likes of Chicharito are denied the chance to play regularly for anybody else. Meanwhile the so called Fair Play new regulations imposed by UEFA seem of limited effect; as exemplified by the huge expenditure in the transfer market of Paris Saint Germain, now backed by the infinite depths of Qatari money. They have recently added the formidable Uruguayan attacker Edinson Cavani to a squad, which already includes a famed striker in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. How many stars will they have on the bench this season?