The greatest danger to Wayne Rooney is himself, Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday. Manchester United's manager believes his striker's inability to say no – demonstrated, Ferguson argues, by Rooney playing almost the entire 90 minutes for England on Wednesday – could prove to be his downfall.
Ferguson revealed that Rooney, his main striker and England's best hope of winning the World Cup this summer may be unfit for this afternoon's game at Wolves because he aggravated his knee in successive games on a Wembley pitch he described as "like a ploughed field".
Also, in his first public comment on the attempt by a group of City financiers known as the Red Knights to buy United from the Glazer family, he ridiculed talk of a fans' boycott to force a sale.
Keith Harris, the former chairman of the Football League and the Red Knights' principal spokesman, argued only the withdrawal of cash could make the Glazers negotiate the sale of a club valued at between £1bn to £1.25bn. "That's a great idea," said Ferguson, his voice loaded with sarcasm. "That has come from an intelligent guy. It would hurt the club. I have no problems with people protesting, it is part of what I once did myself; I went on an apprentices' strike [in the Glasgow shipyards].
"The issue is if it affects the team's performance. I don't think it will. We saw at Wembley on Sunday the fans were fantastic, as they were against City in the semi-final at Old Trafford."
Ferguson thought that Rooney, who played 48 minutes of United's Carling Cup final victory over Aston Villa after Michael Owen tore a hamstring, should have rejected the offer to turn out for England against Egypt on Wednesday night.
"I don't blame Fabio Capello, he has to pick his best team and I think that was the best they have played for years," he said. "On Wednesday you saw, without doubt, a team capable of winning the World Cup.
"But don't forget that Rooney was not supposed to be playing. That is what Wayne told us on Sunday because he was feeling his knee. Then, all of a sudden, you people in the press get hold of him and people with England put an arm around his shoulder – and he wants to play. I don't think he should have played. His own enthusiasm has caused it. He can't say 'no', that's his problem."
The pressure on Rooney both from club and country is far more intense than it was four years ago when, 42 days before England's opening World Cup fixture against Paraguay in Frankfurt, he broke a metatarsal in a tackle with Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho. Before that injury, Ferguson had shown contempt for the idea that Rooney could drive England to the final in Berlin, describing it as "the biggest nonsense I have heard in my life".
Yesterday, the Scot was far more optimistic about their chances while arguing that Rooney had to calm his desire to be involved in everything. "It is hard to quell people with that kind of enthusiasm because it is a restless energy that is his problem," Ferguson said. "He can't sit down, he can't sit still. He is always on the move. I watch him in hotels and he is constantly moving from one table to another.
"When we are away in Europe, he is walking about, always on the go. He has this restless energy, which you don't want to take away from him, but age does some good things for you. Eventually, you say to yourself you can't be bothered with all this running about and you realise you have to take some rest sometime."
Ferguson has never been a fan of the new Wembley pitch and compared it to the churned-up surface on which Swindon beat Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup final, played the week after Wembley had been used for the Horse of the Year show. "It wasn't as bad as that but it reminded me of a ploughed field," Ferguson said. "I couldn't believe the players had actually come through it. But I was disappointed with Wayne. He didn't come off and I couldn't believe it."
However, Ferguson will have his first-choice central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic starting together for the first time since the October afternoon they were beaten by Liverpool at Anfield. There is also hope that midfielder Owen Hargreaves, who has endured an 18-month struggle to recover from tendinitis, will feature in a reserve game on Thursday.
"Ryan Giggs won't be available to face Milan on Wednesday," Ferguson said. "He's out, Michael Carrick's out, Anderson's out, Michael Owen's out and I need the encouragement of players coming back."
England managers feel the hairdryer
"Why reject Beckham, who is hardly ever injured and has tremendous stamina, for Anderton, who is still trying to find his game after a long spell out injured?" asked Ferguson after Hoddle axed the midfielder for England's first two games in the 1998 World Cup.
*Sven Goran Eriksson
In FA Confidential David Davies writes about Ferguson's reaction to Sven's insistence that Wayne Rooney play in the 2006 World Cup. "Ferguson phoned Sven, making his feelings known forcibly. Sven held his own, though once or twice held the phone away from his ear."
Ferguson protested after Capello played Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves in a friendly with France. "It seems to be our players that always play the full 90 minutes."Reuse content