A plea by Fabio Capello was instrumental in reducing the three-match ban that would have seen Wayne Rooney miss all of England's group games in the European Championship.
Uefa's appeals body reduced the sentence for his dismissal against Montenegro to two games which allows Rooney to start the third fixture against Ukraine in Donetsk. Capello's testimony was said to be crucial in that decision. The panel was also impressed by Rooney's decision to remain in Switzerland to make a personal appearance at the hearing, which is said to be rare for a player facing a disciplinary charge, and by the fact that in more than 60 Uefa-sanctioned games, he had only been sent off once before – at Villarreal, playing for Manchester United in Champions League in 2005.
The England manager admitted that Rooney was "paying for my mistake", arguing that he had been wrong to select him for their final Euro 2012 qualifier in Montenegro in October. The match came shortly after Rooney's father, Wayne Senior, and his uncle, Richie, had been arrested after a police investigation into betting irregularities at a Scottish Premier League game between Hearts and Motherwell.
Rooney was with the England squad in Podgorica when the arrests were made and, publicly, Capello said the striker was "relaxed and calm" before the 2-2 draw that saw him dismissed for a witless tackle on Miodrag Dzudovic. The Football Association's team, led by Adam Lewis, one of the country's leading sports lawyers, did not argue that the red card shown by referee, Wolfgang Stark, was wrong. Instead, Capello addressed the three-man commission arguing that Rooney should never have played because he was in no fit mental state to start.
Capello claimed it was clear from the kick-off that Rooney should not have been risked and that he had thought about bringing him off at half-time, but changed his mind and then watched in horror as he lashed out at Dzudovic 17 minutes from the end.
Rooney did not protest against the decision but apologised to his manager and team-mates afterwards. Curiously at the time, Capello's opposite number, the Montenegro manager, Branko Brnovic, echoed his evidence yesterday. "I didn't expect him to play," the Montenegro coach said. "Those family things are serious and this is maybe why he did what he did." Dzudovic supported Rooney in his appeal and yesterday said that "football justice has been done."
The verdict, delivered after a hearing lasting 80 minutes, was another triumph for Lewis, who represented Sheffield United in the successful attempt to extract compensation from West Ham over the Carlos Tevez affair in 2007 and led the only successful appeal on an Olympic doping ban after the 2008 Beijing games, when clearing two Belarusian hammer throwers.
However, it did not meet with universal satisfaction. When the Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, criticised the FA for going to Switzerland to appeal against the ban it was not just because this is an organisation that has yet to set a date for Luis Suarez's hearing to answer the charges of racism two months after the incident with Patrice Evra. The FA is, after all, the body that banned Rooney for two Premier League matches for swearing into a television camera and which extends bans for appeals it considers "frivolous".
There was no risk of Uefa's appeals body extending Rooney's punishment, but the FA's decision to seek a personal hearing and bring Capello to back up the striker's testimony worked as well as it could have hoped.
Indeed, as they drove away towards the airport, they did not know that the hearing had actually gone better than they imagined. The ban for the third game was suspended rather than overturned and, immediately after the hearing, Club England's managing director, Adrian Bevington, stressed that if Rooney were sent off for Manchester United in their remaining Europa League fixtures, the one-match suspension would kick back in. In truth, whatever United do in the remainder of the season will have no impact whatsoever on England. Uefa clarified that the suspension applied only to Uefa sanctioned internationals of which there are none before Capello's side set off for Poland and Ukraine.
"We're very pleased with the outcome because we arrived here with the prospect of Wayne missing the entire group phase, which would have been a huge challenge for Fabio and the team," said Bevington.
"So to have him available for the final group game is a very positive result for us and for Wayne."
Wilshere: Wenger would make great England manager
Jack Wilshere has backed Arsène Wenger to take the England job when Fabio Capello leaves his post at the end of the European Championship.
He said: "I don't think it would be a bad thing. The boss at Arsenal proves it every year. I can't remember the last time we didn't make it out of the [Champions League] group. For me, he and Sir Alex are the best in the top flight and people questioning them are stupid. If the boss at Arsenal wanted the England job I'd be delighted with that."
Wilshere is hoping to be fit for Capello's squad next summer following his long-term ankle injury which has prevented him from playing this season. "It's coming along well; I'm working hard in the gym every day and feel I'm in good hands at Arsenal," he added.
"We've had a few injured at Arsenal in recent years like Aaron Ramsey but they are helping me through it. I can't put a specific date on it [a comeback] but some time in January I'm hoping if all goes well." And the 19-year-old is delighted that Wayne Rooney has been given the chance to play in the group stages after Uefa reduced his ban yesterday. "It's massive for England and the country," he said. "He's our best player and we'll need him there, whether it was a two-match or three-match ban.
"For me there is not another English player on his wavelength, his brain is miles ahead of most."