Latest twist in season that will make or break Rooney

<b>Ian Herbert </b>sees the great hope of both club and country add to his goal tally before again succumbing to injury
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Famous last words. Sir Alex Ferguson said he'd take a defeat if it brought him a goal but he wasn't expecting United to cede vast periods of possession, losing the game in the "terrible" way they did (the manager's word) and then losing Wayne Rooney.

Ferguson and United will come to reflect that a 2-1 away defeat is a result they can take into a second leg with some confidence. That's the bright side. First, a couple of days' fretting over the dark prospect of losing Rooney. The first impression of his injury was ghastly, given that Mario Gomez had trodden on the striker's left foot seconds before Rooney pulled up. The metatarsal break during the build up to the 2006 World Cup finals springs immediately to mind, given that it is just over 10 weeks before England's opening World Cup match on 12 June against the United States – and given England's injury luck in recent months.

Rooney was tracking a run by Gomez when they came together and it was by turning his right ankle badly on landing that he injured himself. United will reflect that the decision to stay in Munich overnight, thereby avoiding putting Rooney's ankle through an immediate flight, was a good one; but the injury contributes to the impression that Rooney, with the relentless effort levels he puts in, is an injury waiting to happen.

Ferguson suggested last Friday that the player's knee tendon complaint, which was first mentioned after last month's Carling Cup final and led him to miss last month's game at Wolves, was not a problem, but his assistant Mike Phelan acknowledged at the weekend that he had missed training sessions last week. Here was a night when some of the frustrations which have been less visible amid this astonishing 34-goal season resurfaced – and they are not always good for his health.

He had also been unhappy in Milan last month, when the first half service to him was so poor that he implied he had had words with some of his team-mates – the clear impression being that Nani was on the receiving end. But that was European away competition as United know it, an attritional form of football to which they have adapted their game to win six straight games on continental soil before this defeat.

Last night's challenge was alien; a Bayern side hardly befitting the title "quarter-finalists" as they allowed Rooney all the time in the world to smash in his volley from Nani's cross on 64 seconds. United appeared disconcerted by the notion of being initially so much the better side, with Bayern the ones forced to up the momentum and press high up the field. United's game fell into raggedness – Nani, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick all surrendering easy possession – and becoming overwhelmed in the midfield.

Then, just when United seemed to have escaped, Franck Ribéry belatedly fired into life. Park Ji-sung had been billeted to deal with him, though the threat was so infrequent in the first half that United could have been lulled into a false sense of insecurity. It was off Rooney that Ribéry's free-kick took a deflection to bring Bayern fortuitously level, and Rooney being Rooney he hammered himself even harder after that. The foot Gomez placed on the top of his left boot as they ran through midfield together might have contributed to the ankle twist. The injury occurred so quickly afterwards that he seemed to have quickened his stride in reaction to it.

Now for an anxious few days waiting for the swelling to go down. The title race is so close that we might conclude that Gomez's challenge was a major turning point because Dimitar Berbatov, with 12 goals this season, will certainly not cause Chelsea the anxiety Rooney would as a loan striker on Saturday lunchtime. Will Ferguson be able to risk him? Might he conclude that a gamble is worth it, since United ought to overcome Bayern 1-0 at Old Trafford without him? Seasons can turn on such moments as last night's.