The debate over Wayne Rooney's fitness for the World Cup finals turned nasty last night when Sir Alex Ferguson warned Sven Goran Eriksson that he should stop raising expectations over the injured 20-year-old and described the possibility of him playing in the quarter-finals of the competition as a "wild dream".
After a poor 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough, that leaves Manchester United requiring a win against Charlton on Sunday to be sure of second place over Liverpool, Ferguson went on the attack over the question of Rooney's fitness. The striker is expected to find out today whether he will need an operation to help heal the broken fourth metatarsal of his right foot.
However, after 48 hours of debate over Rooney's recovery prospects, Ferguson criticised the England manager for suggesting the player would be taken to Germany regardless of his fitness. Ferguson's prognosis that Rooney would not be match fit to play in the quarter-final stage of the competition, which begins on 30 June, was the most pessimistic injury bulletin yet.
"We have to make sure we do not build up people's expectation, which is what is happening at the moment," Ferguson said. "Sven Goran Eriksson saying he will take Wayne to Germany fit or not was something we didn't want to hear. We will do our best to get the boy to Germany but if he is not fit, he is not going to go.
"Sven is going on saying he will take the lad and then in six weeks' time he will have another two weeks to get fit to play in the quarter-final of a World Cup. That is a wild dream. All the other players will be extremely fit because they will have been playing and training for the previous two months. Players who are performing on that stage have to be 100 per cent fit.
"Really, it is folly to suggest the boy could be out of the game for six weeks, then two weeks later go and play in the World Cup quarter-final." The Football Association are aware that Ferguson is notoriously sensitive to any suggestion he withholds his players from international duty unnecessarily. On Sunday, Eriksson made an impromptu appearance on television to correct a story that claimed he had said Rooney would be taken to Germany whatever state his foot was in.
"We will do our best to get the boy to Germany but it will be us who will be doing the consulting," Ferguson said. "We have the right people here to make sure this is done properly but we have to try to calm people down." The FA agreed a public position with United on Sunday that they would say Rooney would be given "every chance" to prove his fitness. Eriksson will definitely name him in his squad on Monday but United will reserve the right to take him out up until 5 June when the squad leave for Germany. Ferguson's comments yesterday were a stern warning for Eriksson over who would make the final decision on the player.
While Ferguson realises that his players have a duty to their countries, his attitude towards releasing them for internationals, especially friendlies, can best be described as grudging. Some of his most spectacular eruptions of temper have been when intense interest in a player's fitness for England like David Beckham in 2002 and now Rooney has overshadowed their role for United.
An injured Rooney at the start of next season would be a catastrophe for Ferguson who surely cannot go a fourth consecutive season without a Premiership title. Earlier yesterday, United released a Ferguson interview conducted with their in-house radio station on Sunday when the Scot described the break as a "crippling blow" for England.
"I spoke to Wayne on Saturday evening and he was obviously a bit down, but I told him these things happen," Ferguson said. "You never know but at the moment I doubt that he'll take part [in the World Cup] because of the recovery time." The FA also came under attack from the United manager for trying to appoint Luiz Felipe Scolari as the new England manager ahead of an Englishman. He said: "English coaches have paid £7,000 to get a Uefa licence and they cannot get the England job. That tells the whole story."Reuse content