Wayne Rooney injury: England fear repeat of 2010 is on the cards in Brazil as Manchester United striker struggles to the end of the season

Striker’s struggles with injury in the build-up to the World Cup are eerily similar to the disaster that unfolded in South Africa

chief football correspondent

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Wayne Rooney’s one career triumph as the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year. He was such a certainty to win that Jimmy Greaves, presenting the award that night, dispensed with the formalities of envelope and drum roll and simply said “Come on, Wayne, come and get your trophy”.

Rooney had been so good in those first eight months of the 2009-10 season that there were no genuine contenders capable of beating him. As he went up to get the trophy he was not just applauded by his fellow professionals, most of them from Football League clubs and well-oiled by then, some in the room chanted his name. That’s what 34 goals before the end of March gets you.

Looking back on Rooney’s awesome form that season throws up some remarkable performances. There were two hat-tricks, including all four goals in a 4-0 win over Hull City in January, and he had nine goals in six games for United up to and including the first-leg away defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16. The goal he scored that night was his last of the season, including, unfortunately, the World Cup finals too.

By the time Rooney picked up that award he had already sustained the injuries that would ruin another major international tournament for him. He hurt his right ankle ligaments in the first game against Bayern and was rushed back for the second leg to try to rescue the tie. Later the England medical staff surmised he might have injured his left ankle as well, as he overcompensated for the original problem.

 

When a couple of us in the press spoke to Rooney well after midnight at the PFA awards, he was confident he would be “fine” for the World Cup. “Obviously, there is a lot of hype when I get injured but that is what you have to live with,” he said. Then he headed off into the London night with his entourage, blissfully unaware of the summer of anger and frustration that he had coming.

Hype? It is more like dread when Rooney gets injured this close to a major international tournament. On Wednesday night against Bayern he played with what was described as a chipped bone in his toe, the discomfort soothed by a painkilling injection which, as well as numbing the pain, seriously numbed Rooney’s performance levels. The two chances that fell to him in either half were squandered. The game passed him by.

The extent of Rooney’s injury is still not clear, although certain historical parallels are a little uncomfortable. After the 3-1 defeat to Bayern on Wednesday night that sealed United’s Champions League elimination, manager David Moyes said that Rooney was having “a struggle striking the ball”. It was a grave admission about a footballer at any level. If that was the case then why was he playing?

There are troubling aspects to Rooney’s injury for Roy Hodgson, the England manager. Traditionally, Rooney has taken longer to return from these kind of problems than the early prognosis has suggested. Famously, when Rooney injured himself against Bayern four years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson said after the match that it was of little consequence and he expected Rooney to be “available next week”.

He has always taken match-time to return to his optimum form. Simply missing the last five games of United’s season is no guarantee that England will take him to Brazil fresh or ready. Rooney does not benefit from a break when he is playing well. “Whenever he was out for a few weeks with an injury,” Ferguson wrote in his recent autobiography, “Wayne’s fitness would drop quite quickly.”

In 2010, Rooney played one more game in April after the Bayern second leg, the 1-0 away win at Manchester City, and then the final two league games of the season. He played in three England friendlies and the four games of the tournament and he left South Africa still waiting for his first decent performance. Given his form pre-April, it was painful to watch him searching hopelessly for his lost game.

This time one can only hope that the injury is much less serious, but the necessity of a painkilling injection is a concern. There is enough pressure on Rooney as it is without him going to Miami for the warm-up and on to Brazil with an injury hanging over him. Even Nike, which pays handsomely for him to wear its boots, has made a feature in its latest advertising campaign of Rooney never having scored at a World Cup.

That encompasses the 2006 World Cup too, when the squabbles between United and Sven Goran Eriksson’s staff only served to highlight the desperation of England to have Rooney fit after he fractured a metatarsal, as well as his obvious unsuitability to cope with the demands of the tournament. The conclusion to that depressing episode does not need recounting again, but it will not be a path that Hodgson will wish to travel.

Nevertheless, Hodgson has great faith in Rooney, who was a key figure for the England manager in the two decisive qualifying games against Montenegro and Poland in October, scoring in both. It has been the prerogative of England managers in the past to stake everything on Rooney in major tournaments, as Hodgson did at Euro 2012, and it has not helped the player himself or the team in the long run.

Already the warning signs are there for Hodgson: a toe injury, injections to cope with it in games too important to miss, and a tired Rooney who is a long way off his best at the end of another long season.

Since that PFA award-winning season, Rooney has averaged more than 45 games and 25 goals a season for club and country. It has been a good run, and at 28, 10 years on from his first impact at a tournament at Euro 2004, he should be in the form of his life. But that form ebbs and flows with injury and mood. When it disappears there is no forcing it back.

Hodgson will hope that the chipped bone in Rooney’s toe is nothing that will not heal quickly, and that may be the case. But history has suggested that, when it comes to England’s biggest name, it is rarely that simple.

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