World Cup 2014: Fresh, fit and feisty - Wayne Rooney ready to prove his doubters wrong
Former team-mate Scholes had suggested Rooney had peaked two years ago
If Wayne Rooney had had to predict where the first jab of criticism would come from in the build-up to the World Cup finals, the chances are he would have placed his money on it being Sir Alex Ferguson or Roy Keane. But then he probably did not know that Paul Scholes had signed up to write the first sponsored column of what has been, until now, a reluctant media career.
Scholes’ analysis of Rooney’s career yesterday, that he might have peaked already two years ago and that he might be better playing in midfield as he gets older, will not have escaped the squad’s attention during down their downtime at Vale Do Lobo, the squad’s Portugal training base. It cannot be ignored, simply because the credentials of the man advancing the argument are too strong.
That goes too for Rooney, who has long mastered the indifferent shrug of the super-famous when they are confronted with criticism. When it was put to him this week that Ferguson had said in his autobiography that Rooney was slow to regain his match sharpness – “four to five games” was the former United manager’s assessment – the striker waved it away as being the case for most players.
Ferguson was talking about you specifically, came the reply. “Well, I’m sure he would,” shot back Rooney, with the intensity and sharpness that, sadly, he often restrains when he fulfils press duties.
The big question, as ever, is how it will be for Rooney in Brazil. Two World Cup finals into his career, with not even a goal to show for it yet, he as good as admitted that this was the last chance to do something special.
“At the World Cup in 2018, I will be older and it will be difficult to make an impact on that one,” he said. He has not played since 26 April, hence the decision to come to Portugal early with two fitness coaches in tow.
Rooney ran through the fitness regime he pursued last week while many of his team-mates were on holiday. It was a demanding programme of mornings spent in the gym working on his upper body and legs, and then a further hour and a half out on the field doing high-intensity running. As ever with Rooney, you feel that his form is in the laps of the gods, but at least he is doing his best.
“I’ve felt that in all the [previous] tournaments, they haven’t gone great for me but I’m hoping this one will. I feel fresh, I feel fit, I feel ready so really this tournament there will be no excuses from me if it doesn’t.
“I’m hoping it might be like when I was at Everton and we hadn’t done very well [in 2003-04] and then I went to a tournament and kicked on from that,” he said. “I was enjoying games. This season at United has been stop-start, so I’m hoping that, with England, I can come into this team and we can start off by doing well in the friendly games, take that into the World Cup and get that enjoyment of winning games back.”
Later he reflected on the groin injury that ended his season and suggested that it might be a benefit for his England career. “I’ve played a lot of games and just having that little break before the end of the season might have helped me,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was ready to train when we met up.
“We’ve still got three weeks and three friendly games before the start of the World Cup, so I’m really confident I’ll be in the best shape I can be for when the World Cup starts.”
The general consensus on Rooney’s lacklustre performance in South Africa in 2010 was that the body was not healed, following an ankle injury against Bayern Munich in March that year, and the mind was in turmoil over forthcoming revelations about his extramarital relationships. When the possible effect of the latter was put to him, in a roundabout way, he dismissed it.
“Not really. It was just that I didn’t perform well enough in the tournament. There was a lot of stuff written afterwards, which during the tournament I wasn’t aware of. But after hearing what he said last night to us, I feel it might benefit me.”
The “he” in question was the psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters, whom the England manager, Roy Hodgson, has recruited. Rooney said that he was open to seeing the man by whom Steven Gerrard swears. Peters might find Rooney a tough nut to crack, given that the player himself finds it hard to put a finger on why it has not worked for him so far.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” he said. “When you’re going into a tournament, you believe you’re going to do well, so you don’t really feel that pressure, but maybe inside you are feeling it, which you don’t realise.”
Finally, he was asked about the Louis van Gaal effect and the possibility of being United’s new captain next season. Robin van Persie, with his relationship to Van Gaal, looks the most likely. “I’ve said before that I’ve captained United a few times and to get it on a full-time basis would be great,” Rooney said. “With the new manager, it’s his decision. Whoever he chooses to be captain, I’ll respect that and have no problems with it.”
It will be interesting to hear what Van Gaal makes of Scholes’ theory on Rooney. After 10 years at United, Rooney faces another pivotal summer, after which he could have transformed his status in the contexts of country and club – for better or for worse.
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