Wayne Rooney has risked a row with Sir Alex Ferguson by contradicting the Manchester United manager's claim that he was injured for the games he missed against Valencia and Sunderland, and added that it is not true he has a problem with his ankle.
The United striker made the remarks after the Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro when he was asked about his fitness – one of the rare occasions he has spoken in public since the much-discussed allegations about his private life. The bluntness of Rooney's dismissal of Ferguson's claims is potentially divisive, especially coming from the club's star player.
Asked whether his ankle had caused him any problems in Tuesday's goalless draw, Rooney said: "I've had no problems with my ankle all season."
All season? "No."
So why did Sir Alex say you did? "Don't know."
Ferguson claimed on 28 September, before the Champions League tie against Valencia, that Rooney was suffering from an ankle injury that meant he would miss the matches against the Spanish side and Sunderland as well as England's game with Montenegro.
Ferguson was insistent that Rooney was injured and expressed frustration at further questions about the exact state of the injury. "What do you want me to say?" Ferguson said at the time. "Do you want me to describe every ligament? Christ."
On 1 October Ferguson said the prognosis had changed and that Rooney could be available to play for England. Although the striker duly did so, he has not played for United since the Bolton Wanderers game on 29 September in which he was substituted.
In another interview with broadcasters on Tuesday night, Rooney also said that he had been fit all season. "I felt sharp tonight," he said. "I've been training for the last two months, I haven't missed a training session. So I've got no problems with my fitness."
If that was intended as a public rebuke to Ferguson then it will not have gone unnoticed – and it is hard to see what else it was. Ferguson also left Rooney out of the squad for the game against Everton on 11 September with the storm over his private life then at its height. He said on that occasion that the player was being rested to spare him the abuse of his former club's supporters.
The player has also not signed his new United contract and has only this season and next left on his existing deal. Until that is resolved there is always the possibility that Rooney, who turns 25 this month, could run his contract down to the summer of next year. While an unlikely scenario, it would probably earn him the most lucrative deal in football if he left United on a free transfer.
The closer Rooney gets to the end of his contract, the more nervous United will be about such a possibility. If he has not signed it by the end of this season, or is not close to signing it, then the club would have to consider seriously the prospect of selling him rather than risk losing the player for nothing the following summer.
Rooney said more than once on Tuesday night that he would need games in order to build up his sharpness and fitness. "I felt better [against Montenegro]," he said. "You need games to get your fitness in. I played a few games and felt I was getting sharp but then missed three or four and then [didn't] feel as sharp as I thought I would do.
"Towards the end of last season I was injured. But during the World Cup I trained in every session and had no problems, fitness wise. In this league you need to keep playing because if you're not in full fitness it's difficult to break teams down."
Of his form, he added: "Of course I have [had runs without scoring in the past]. You just have to keep working hard. Once one goes in I'm sure I'll score more. If I have chances and don't score, then I'm disappointed. But there's a lot of games left in the season so I'm sure I can start scoring soon. I train as hard as I can every day and I do extra training which I've done since I was a young boy, so I keep doing my training."
Rio Ferdinand rejected the suggestion that after the World Cup the England players no longer wanted to play for their country. "People can't say the results at Wembley or wherever you play for your club do not matter," he said. "It doesn't matter how much you get paid, it's about pride. You go back to your house, look yourself in the mirror and say you've given 100 per cent and I worked hard enough for my team.
"It was 11 wins on the bounce [at Wembley before Tuesday]. Sometimes people should take that into consideration, but people pay their money to watch us perform and win games. Frustration creeps in sometimes, and that is part and parcel of being an international footballer – you take the rough with the smooth."
Rooney missing in action?
Wayne Rooney has missed five of Manchester United's 11 games this season. He sat out the 2-2 draw at Fulham in August with a virus and was also omitted from last month's 3-3 draw at Everton, with Sir Alex Ferguson not wanting to subject him to "the terrible abuse he always gets" at Goodison.
The 24-year-old was rested for the Carling Cup win at Scunthorpe before missing the trips to Valencia and Sunderland with, according to Ferguson, a recurrence of his ankle injury. He has played in all four of England's games.
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