Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rooney out of sorts on return to the spotlight

The wantaway Manchester United striker's lack of pre-season action showed as he toiled against Scotland in England's 3-2 victory at Wembley on Wednesday night

Based on last night's performance alone, David Moyes may want to revise his ‘not for sale’ stance on Wayne Rooney's future. After all the conjecture, debate and posturing, the England striker failed to live up to top billing.

Rooney has barely kicked a ball in pre-season and has been training with the United second string as he recovers from a shoulder injury, but he looked miles off the

pace at Wembley on Wednesday night.

This was the golden opportunity to send a message to his suitors and his doubters. A chance he missed. 

His first involvement of the game - a wild swing at a cross - set the tone for a performance in which he seemed to be two yards off the pace of everyone else on the pitch.

And this was against Scotland, placed 50th in the Fifa rankings and playing with a centre-back pairing of Russell Martin and Grant Hanley.

Hardly formidable, but you would have been forgiven for thinking Rooney was up against Franco Baresi given the nature of his performance.

Rooney is far too good and has been far too successful to be judged on his 67-minute appearance in the 3-2 win over Scotland, but his lack of pre-season action told.

As if to prove the point, his replacement Rickie Lambert was bursting the net less than three minutes after arriving to make his England debut. Rooney had not even managed a shot on target.

Rooney wants to join Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, the Blues manager, envisages the 27-year-old playing as the focal point of the Londoners’ attack.

But playing in that very role here, Rooney constantly dropped deep in search of the ball, disrupting any attacking rhythm England managed to generate.

Rooney was certainly lacking confidence, his first touch unpredictable as he lost possession early on and gave the ball away with sloppy passes.

His only real action of note was a low shot from 25 yards in the first-half that skidded well wide of the Scotland goal.

After the game, Hodgson admitted Rooney was a little off the pace of the game but said he was pleased with the forward’s contribution.

“We all knew before the game that this was his first actual competitive game of the season,” said Hodgson. “You wouldn’t expect that in normal circumstances, it wasn’t an ideal situation.

“David Moyes and the people at Manchester United have been fantastic, they welcomed the fact that he wanted to play and I wanted to play him.”

On this evidence it will take Rooney several weeks, perhaps even months, to find the form and fitness that will make him a key player in a title challenging team this season - whether that’s Chelsea or United.

Rooney appeared in good spirits after the game, smiling and affable even with journalists in the post-match mixed zone.

But with no resolution imminent between United and Chelsea - the latest bid of around £30m was flatly rejected - Rooney’s mental state is likely to be tested in the remainder of the transfer window.

He needs to make sure that the summer’s disruption does not have too much of a negative impact on his game, particularly in a World Cup year.

For now, he needs to forget about his future, focus on his match sharpness and play for Manchester United. Training with the rest of the first-team might be a start.