Rooney’s agony

> Cap­tain has to won­der about his fu­ture now that Ibra and team are flour­ish­ing in his ab­sence <

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - IAN HER­BERT

THE look on Wayne Rooney’s face when the fourth goal went is the one which should be con­sid­ered and re­mem­bered by those who will take plea­sure in him be­ing rel­e­gated to the bench.

There was ap­plause and a broad grin from him and no sour­ness that the team had gone into over­drive the minute he was ab­sent. Th­ese are the mo­ments to judge a sports­man’s char­ac­ter – even one who for some in this place will never win re­demp­tion for his threat to leave nine years ago, trig­ger­ing a stand­off which Sir Alex Fer­gu­son could not win and a huge pay-rise for him­self.

Be­hind the smile, though, what pri­vate ag­o­nies must have been play­ing out in Rooney’s in­te­rior mind? The cap­tain was dropped, the team flour­ished and ev­ery­where he looked on the pitch there were sights to taunt a 30-year-old who has to won­der where he fits, in the weeks and months ahead .

The ob­vi­ous ones were self-ev­i­dent. The pres­ence in the stands of Sam Al­lardyce. The new-found bal­ance of a side which An­der Her­rera man­aged with such as­sur­ance and so much time from his po­si­tion in front of the de­fence, free­ing Paul Pogba to take up ad­vance po­si­tions in the space which was pre­vi­ously Rooney’s des­ig­na­tion.

But there was also the swag­ger and supremacy of Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, re­veal­ing for all the world that it is pos­si­ble to flour­ish as a striker when your 30th birth­day has long been and gone.

Ibrahi­movic is the one who those at the top of United have been most struck by in the past two months. They thought they were buy­ing a striker but have in fact found an in­di­vid­ual with pro­found dress­ing room in­flu­ence: a cap­tain, by any other name.

He re­vealed what he brings in a late first half mo­ment, when Le­ices­ter City’s Wes Mor­gan set off to re­trieve a hope­ful ball down United’s left, with the Swede in pur­suit. Mor­gan’s head-start should have made it a one-horse race. It was Ibra­homivic’s sheer strength that al­lowed him to mus­cle in on pos­ses­sion.

It is the 34-year-old’s un­com­pro­mis­ing pres­ence which makes him such an ab­sorb­ing player to watch in the sta­dium, in those mo­ments when the cam­era’s fo­cus is else­where. Pogba ges­tured that he’d wanted a pass on one mo­ment.

Ibrahi­movic threw out a low hand ges­ture which said: ‘Don’t think about it.” In a break in play, he beck­oned his part­ner Mar­cus Rash­ford to­wards him to is­sue an in­struc­tion. He is self­less too, in­tu­it­ing al­ways when to lay off and when to shoot.

The pri­vate grins he al­ways him­self when he has been thwarted – a low shot touched away on 66 min­utes here – tells you he’s in charge.

Rooney’s work-rate in th­ese re­cent weeks has been re­lent­less, with that trade­mark swing of foot in frus­tra­tion when pos­ses­sion has gone so com­mon. Ibrahi­movic pre­serves his en­ergy for the essentials of what he does. Less is more with him. Four first half goals there might have been but the af­ter­noon’s sub­lime mo­ment came when he took on his chest a ball drifted up by Pogba from Rooney’s No 10 space, swiv­elled and volleyed over.

Such are the mo­ments Old Traf­ford has missed th­ese past three years. When a Zla­tan looka­like in­vaded the pitch in the sec­ond half, the striker gave him a rugby ‘hand-off’- laugh­ing all the while while he did so.

All of this fu­elled Mour­inho’s in­dig­na­tion with the foot­ball writ­ers who have been ques­tion­ing him. His pro­gramme pro­vided more ev­i­dence of it, and with Mour­inho feel­ing the need to cir­cle the wag­ons.

“In the space one week the ‘foot­ball ex­perts’ changed their opin­ion,” he wrote. “That is an easy job but we will pre­fer ours with so many amaz­ing mo­ments. Dur­ing the week we are not on hol­i­day, we have no time for posh din­ners in restau­rants. We don’t feed the van­ity of the opin­ion mak­ers…. The boys need sup­port af­ter hear­ing and read­ing cruel com­ments...”

It has been the im­bal­ance Rooney has caused at the hub of the team which the so-called ex­perts have been dis­cussing, of course.

Mour­inho knows that and Rooney, too. Old Traf­ford did not ex­actly rise to his feet when he ar­rived for the last 10 min­utes. Though foot­ball can al­ways sur­prise, it al­ready seems like a long way back into con­tention for him in games that ac­tu­ally mat­ter. – The In­de­pen­dent

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