Sadly, Rooney will never be Cantona


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The Independent Online

It is getting on for 16 years since Eric Cantona broke a city's hearts, emerging on a bitter Tyneside night to strike the goal that defeated Newcastle, on the evening, and ultimately in the Premier League title race. Cantona bore the Talismanic role with such distinction that at times it felt it was his mission to swat another pretender, that it was personal task to keep Manchester United aloof and out of the reach of any would be contender. He would stay a bit late at training, helping to define the culture of a football club.

In the rain and swirling wind at a full and hostile St James' Park last night, Sir Alex Ferguson cried out for such a player to end what has been a truly miserable week. With 15 minutes remaining he gave up, substituting Wayne Rooney, right, and offering a hand of support in a kind of low five, his eyes never leaving the pitch. Manchester United do not lose to Blackburn (then bottom of the league) and now Newcastle (seventh at the start of play) at this time of the season.

Maybe Rooney was right in his assertion all those months ago that there has been a lowering of the standard of a team that has dominated the domestic game for two decades, but then his pay rise was supposed to be a reminder that his role would be seminal in leading and helping the emerging, good young players in its ranks.

Instead, he could not quite cut it in training, was left out against Blackburn and skulked around the same ground that Cantona owned that crucial evening.

Last night was the biggest signal yet that the Premier League title will stay in Manchester, just with a new residence. The champions do not yet lean on Rooney quite in the manner than Arsenal do with Robin van Persie, but it is starting to get towards that level.

Alan Pardew wisely bit his tongue on the eve of this game when he started stating why Newcastle could emerge victorious.

The point here, as a barometer of how good or bad Manchester United are now is that Newcastle have five players who could arguably expect to get a game for Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

These are the games where Cantona would excel. This was the game where a problem-free Rooney could have bailed United out. He didn't. It is a sobering thought, as are the last two Premier League results and the table.