United need the striker’s goals ... but so do Eng­land


IF ALEX FER­GU­SON had been told last sea­son that he could keep only one of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Wayne Rooney, it would have been an im­pos­si­ble call for the Manch­ester United man­ager.

Ron­aldo ul­ti­mately chose to leave Manch­ester United for Real Madrid of his own ac­cord, but I’m not sure that Fer­gu­son would have will­ingly sac­ri­ficed Rooney in or­der to keep Ron­aldo any­way.

With Ron­aldo out of the pic­ture, United are cat­e­gor­i­cally not a bet­ter team.

But when it comes to Rooney, he has un­ques­tion­ably be­come a bet­ter player be­cause Ron­aldo is no longer play­ing along­side him.

That is great news for United, but the flip side for Fabio Capello and Eng­land is that it in­creases the dan­ger that Rooney will go to the World Cup at risk of burnout.

As his four goals against Hull City last Satur­day high­lighted, Wayne has taken his game to an­other level this sea­son.

He has be­come a more pro­lific goalscorer and his abil­ity to find space, which has al­ways been ex­cep­tional, has gone up an­other notch.

In the ab­sence of Ron­aldo, he has had to to­tally shoul­der the bur­den of ex­pectancy at United, but he has stepped up to the plate and done mag­nif­i­cently. The re­spon­si­bil­ity has in­spired him and he has kicked on.

But that is the root of the prob­lem for Eng­land. Rooney is now so im­por­tant to United that you sim­ply can­not see Fer­gu­son do­ing without him be­tween now and the end of the sea­son.

He sug­gested rest­ing him for the Hull game, but he chose not to and Rooney scored four goals. If you can’t rest him for a game at home to Hull, then he won’t be left out when all of the big Premier League and Cham­pi­ons League games come around.

Fer­gu­son has to play him in ev­ery game be­cause, without Rooney, United are more than ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing an­other av­er­age per­for­mance that could lead to an­other de­feat.

Take him out of the United team or the Eng­land side and it would leave a mas­sive gap which no­body could fill.

United would not be in the po­si­tion they are cur­rently in at the top of the league without Rooney. The dam­age to their am­bi­tions this sea­son would be un­think­able should Wayne miss games through in­jury.

The fact that United are not play­ing par­tic­u­larly well this sea­son is an­other worry for Capello be­cause you can see in Rooney’s face that the frus­tra­tion only makes him try even harder.

He ends up chas­ing back 60 yards to re­trieve the ball and his workrate goes through the roof but, even though he’s still only 24, he has to be care­ful. He would not be the first player to go to a ma­jor tour­na­ment suf­fer­ing from burnout.

If you get to May and find your­self men­tally tired, you can for­get it be­cause you just can­not re­cover from be­ing men­tally fa­tigued.

But there is no way that Fer­gu­son will start to think, “I need to give Wayne a rest be­cause the World Cup is only six weeks away,” while United are push­ing for tro­phies in the fi­nal weeks of the sea­son.

The only thing that Fer­gu­son and Capello share is the heavy re­liance of their teams on Rooney’s tal­ents.

Any chance that Eng­land might have of winning the World Cup this sum­mer will be gone if Rooney misses out on South Africa or if he goes there feel­ing the ef­fects of his ex­er­tions with United.

Ear­lier this sea­son, I sug­gested that Fer­nando Tor­res was the most im­por­tant player in the Premier League and then, af­ter Di­dier Drogba dec­i­mated Arse­nal, it looked as though his value to Chelsea was greater than that of any other player in the coun­try.

But when you con­sider Rooney’s per­for­mances for United and the goals that he has scored, in what is a team that has strug­gled for form for much of the sea­son, then you have to con­cede that he has sur­passed Tor­res and Drogba in terms of how his per­for­mances in­flu­ence the for­tunes of his team.

Iron­i­cally, Rooney’s dis­play against Hull came along­side Michael Owen, who has strug­gled for g at United this sea­son.

The ques­tion marks abil­ity to still cut it for E go away un­til he gets t games, but Owen and Ro a per­fect com­bi­na­tion f the past.

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