Rooney jets back to World Cup but United say forget about group stage

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney was sent back to join England's World Cup squad here last night but as a nation rejoiced, a day of legal wrangling and tension between the Football Association and Manchester United ensured his availability for the tournament is still in the balance.

Sven Goran Eriksson may have got his wish that Rooney will be given the chance to play some part in the finals but United have insisted upon strict conditions over his fitness that the player must fulfil first.

A statement released by United just after midnight last night said the " independent medical view is that Wayne has a good chance of being fit after the group stage. At that point, the expert view is that his participation in the tournament will require very careful assessment, as he will not have had the opportunity to play in less demanding games".

It was an indication of the intensity of the talks between United and the FA that up to 12 people were party to the talks at the Bupa private hospital clinic in Whalley Range, south Manchester, yesterday.

Rooney, who emerged smiling from the hospital at 7.47pm, was back in Baden-Baden long before the two sides had finalised the statement on his fitness. He had flown from Karlsruhe at 10am, attended the scan around midday before visiting his parents and the family of his fiancée Coleen McLoughlin. Then he was unexpectedly summoned back to the hospital.

Central to the debate over Rooney's fitness has been the contrasting opinions of Eriksson and Sir Alex Ferguson over the striker's rehabilitation. Eriksson is understood to believe the player can come back as a late substitute against Sweden in the final Group B game on 20 June. Ferguson's view is that Rooney is much further from full fitness.

The length and complexity of the discussions reflected the two conflicting perspectives. As the scan results failed to bring the two sides to a compromise, a second opinion was sought. The England doctor Leif Sward, with the agreement of United assistant club doctor Tony Gill, called upon Professor Angus Wallace to offer what was effectively a fourth medical view. Wallace, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham and a former chairman of the National Sports Medicine Institute, had beenapproached to offer an opinion on Rooney's scan results. He was called to Manchester although it is not clear whether he actually saw the player.

With Dr Gill, Dr Sward and another unnamed specialist from the hospital already examining Rooney, the decision can safely be described as close. With Rooney back at the Bupa hospital, discussions continued over his suitability to play a part in the World Cup. United's long-serving company solicitor Maurice Watkins made sure that the club had an agreement that Rooney would fulfil certain aspects of his recovery before he could play again competitively.

Those targets mean that Eriksson may not get his wish of a Rooney appearance in the group stages although that may change if England need a win in their last game against Sweden to qualify. Instead, a more realistic date will be the potential second-round match on either the 24 or 25 June against Germany or Poland.

For the 100,000 England football fans expected to travel to Germany and the millions watching back home, this appeared to be a day of blessed relief. However, Rooney's long journey back to fitness after fracturing the fourth metatarsal of his right foot on 29 April is still far from complete. In the coming week he will be required to prove his recovery is beyond doubt.

As Rooney returned to the Schlosshotel Buhlerhohe last night it meant the end of the World Cup for one man at least. Jermain Defoe will not be needed and the reserve striker will come home, probably today, after serving as Rooney's back-up for the past three weeks. The deadline for changes to Eriksson's 23-man squad expires tomorrow.

Ferguson, on holiday in the south of France, made sure the United contingent secured the agreement from the FA. The United chief executive David Gill was meeting the Glazer family in Tampa, Miami, and was also in contact.

Ferguson had originally described the prospect of Rooney playing at the World Cup as a "wild dream" but eventually he and the club accepted that, above all, the player's desire would see him going to Germany.

Rooney will resume training today at England's training camp at the Mittelbergstadion in the Black Forest but it remains unclear as to whether he will be allowed to join in the full-blooded training matches.

On that fateful day at Stamford Bridge 41 days ago, Rooney gashed the foot of John Terry before breaking his own toe but the Chelsea captain joked yesterday that he will resist the temptation to seek revenge.

"I don't know if I'm the man to avoid but I will take it easy with him," said Terry. "I still owe him one but I think I'll save it for next season. He's such an important player and to have a great player like him coming back will be a real boost."

I thought Bridge tackle had ended my World Cup, says Terry

For a few chilling moments on Tuesday it appeared England had paid a gratuitous price for their absolute commitment to training when a collision between John Terry and Wayne Bridge left the Chelsea captain fearing his own private plane journey back to Blighty.

"When he caught me on the ankle I thought for a few minutes, 'I'm struggling here and I could be on the way home,'" Terry admitted yesterday. "Thankfully, after a few minutes I was back on my feet and running it off."

For the Chelsea defender, so crucial to England's prospects of success in Germany, there is sense in taking such a full-blooded approach so close to the World Cup. "If you start pulling out of tackles in training you do get hurt and if you let other people get there before you then, when it comes to the game situation, you will be hesitant," he added. " It's all about coming into the game situation 100 per cent. You know your World Cup can be over in one tackle but the way we train is an advantage."