After trouble and pain, the boy wonder can let feet do talking

Wayne Rooney has handled his metatarsal crisis with dignity but spare a thought for the unfairly maligned Manchester United, writes Sam Wallace
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The Independent Online

As the TV news helicopters buzzed above Whalley Range, as another meaningless bulletin was broadcast from outside the private hospital in that unloved suburb of Manchester, the mind drifted back to that part of the city's one other footnote in the history of English popular culture. " What do we get for our trouble and pain?" The Smiths sang plaintively in 1984. "Just a rented room in Whalley Range." And even 22 years later it seemed that Morrissey had a point.

At lunchtime yesterday, in a rented treatment room in Whalley Range, Wayne Rooney presented the troublesome metatarsal of his right foot to the specialist and hoped for the best. What a journey it had been to get there. Not many 20-year-olds have to deal with a small broken part of themselves becoming an issue of international importance. A broken toe that ends up the source of a potentially monumental dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and the Football Association. In short, a whole lot of trouble and pain.

Now that Rooney is back in Germany, one thing stands out above all: the man himself has handled life with dignity and determination as he has had to contemplate the destruction of his World Cup dream. Watching him training alone, away from his England team-mates, on Tuesday, was to know that the country's single most talented footballer is being denied the one thing he covets the most: the right to pull on a football jersey and go out to do damage to the opposition.

Back to Whalley Range and the fix that Rooney found himself in was peculiarly Morrissey-esque. That old story of the struggle of youth, talent and ambition to assert itself in a world that seems doomed to misunderstand him ­ the longing for a place in history, not to mention living out all that teenage angst on a very public stage. But more than ever over the last week we have seen Rooney articulate, in his own way, what it is he wants from life.

The decision on whether he would play or not was supposed to be brokered at the very top end of English football: United executives and FA officials with an element of serious medical opinion thrown in as well. Then on Monday someone chipped an inviting cross within the compass of Rooney and he hit it with the savage relief of a footballer who has spent too long without his boots on.

This was Rooney's plea to play this summer in the most eloquent terms he could muster. In those pictures snatched of him training with England outside Watford on Monday, we saw Rooney interrupt the opinions of the experts, of Eriksson and of Ferguson the way he knows best: by belting a ball into a goal with the foot he broke five weeks earlier.

There are those who feel that Rooney could have been better supervised with England, especially at that last session in Watford when his ball-work extended to throwing himself horizontal in the air and executing scissor-kicks. It was certainly not the work of a player bent on a cautious convalescence. But confront Rooney with a bag full of footballs and his natural instinct is to batter all of them into the nearest goal. He is not a man who lets a twinge of pain stand in the way of some full-blooded shooting practice.

Throughout the saga of Rooney's broken metatarsal, it is a personal opinion that United and Sir Alex Ferguson have been unfairly maligned. They have been cast as the self-interested refuseniks in what the rest of the nation had fervently hoped to be the Miracle of Whalley Range, from where Rooney, they prayed, would emerge whole again having entered a broken man less than six weeks earlier.

Privately, United think different. They knew they had a moral obligation to give Rooney the care and protection he needed and, had medical opinion required them to do, would have been unafraid to make an unpopular decision. But they also knew they had a player who was so desperate to play in the World Cup he would have seen any unreasonable obstacle to doing so as a personal slight.

That was United's main challenge. They were not part of some sinister, covert plot to save Rooney for themselves. Instead, they believed they might have had to save him from himself. If Rooney's desire to play in the World Cup finals was in danger of inflicting long-lasting damage upon himself, then he would have been stopped for his own good.

There are not many people at United whose feelings Ferguson must consider before he makes a big decision, but Rooney was too important to alienate.

As a manager with 32 years' experience, no one knew better than Ferguson the task of telling a young man what was good for him and there could hardly be a manager more capable of withstanding the heat from such a decision. There are, of course, much sterner tests beyond volleying a ball in training, the attendant small niggling injuries that accompany a major break as the body attempts to compensate and adjust.

Those pitfalls were laid out by Gary Neville this week. "I don't know if anyone here has broken a bone but you do have problems recovering from it, " he said. "It is not just the actual break, it is the mental thing; there are other things that surround it." Like the prospect of Robert Huth accidentally landing on Rooney's toe after 10 minutes of a second-round match against Germany, or that dark possibility that opponents will intentionally seek out his weakness.

No one could have tried harder before yesterday's scan to make clear his determination to play, to make a physical sacrifice at which many would have blanched ­ and a few internationals in the Premiership spring to mind. Rooney cares about the World Cup as much as the rest of the country, although for him in the last month it has meant more than enough trouble and pain.

How Rooney's dash from Baden-Baden to Manchester unfolded

9am (UK time): Rooney leaves England's Bühlerhöhe Schlosshotel in Baden-Baden for the short journey to Karlsruhe Airport.

9.48: Rooney, the England team doctor Leif Sward, the FA executive director David Davies, the FA media officer Mark Whittle and a member of the England's security team depart Karlsruhe on a private Learjet for the 650-mile flight to Manchester.

11.13: Rooney and his entourage land at Manchester Airport and link up with the player's agent, Paul Stretford, and the Manchester United medical team of Dr Tony Gill and physio Rob Swire.

11.48: Rooney arrives for his scan at Whalley Range Hospital in silver Mercedes Benz Viano with FA officials, followed by Stretford and United medics in silver Mercedes CLS.

12.13pm After just 24 minutes inside hospital, Rooney emerges from front entrance, betraying little emotion and wearing oversize headphones around his neck, before climbing into Mercedes CLS with the FA security man and leaving the hospital.

12.15: Sward and the FA team and United pair Gill and Swire leave Whalley Range to analyse the results of scan independently.

13.05: Rooney arrives in Liverpool and visits the home of fiancée Coleen McLoughlin's parents in Croxteth.

15.10: A smiling Rooney emerges from the McLoughlin house and climbs back into Mercedes for journey to Manchester.

17.29: Rooney returns to Whalley Range for the make-or-break verdict on his scan.

19.04: Fire alarm at Whalley Range hospital sees two fire crew arrive but the scare proves to be a false alarm and Rooney remains in the building.

19.44: Rooney leaves hospital and heads for Manchester Airport for return flight to Germany.

20.38: The Rooney jet takes off for Karlsruhe with the England striker on board.

Key games in Germany

GROUP B

SATURDAY

England v Paraguay (Frankfurt) 2pm

THURSDAY 15 JUNE

England v Trinidad & Tobago (Nuremberg) 5pm

TUESDAY 20 JUNE

England v Sweden (Cologne) 8pm

KNOCK-OUT STAGE

SATURDAY 24 JUNE

Runners-up Group B v winners Group A (Munich)

SUNDAY 25 JUNE

Winners Group B v runners-up Group A (Stuttgart)

QUARTER-FINALS

FRIDAY 30 JUNE (Berlin)

SATURDAY 1 JULY (Gelsenkirchen)

SEMI-FINALS

TUESDAY 4 JULY (Dortmund)

WEDNESDAY 5 JULY (Munich)

FINAL

SUNDAY 9 JULY (Berlin)

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