Sir Alex Ferguson's response to the media furore that has followed Wayne Rooney's omission from Tuesday's Champions League tie with Real Madrid lacked only a photo of the happy couple sharing a cosy moment together. In every other respect it could have been a Tory cabinet minister insisting his marriage was rock-solid despite being caught inflagrante with a junior researcher.
"To suggest we don't talk to each other is nonsense", said the Manchester United manager before promising he and Rooney would be together at Old Trafford next year. As with the cabinet minister's vow, this is a genuine hope. Rooney remains a player of value to United, when on form his goals, his creativity, and his versatility are an asset to any club. But there have been indications for a long time now that Rooney's approach to his career at times lacks the professionalism Ferguson demands of his players.
There was his omission at Christmas 2011, after which well-sourced reports suggested Ferguson was prepared to let him go, and there have been tart observations from Ferguson's about Rooney's lack of fitness this season. Even today he added that Rooney was the 'type' who 'needed' to play.
Wednesday night may well have been another warning shot. A further reminder to Rooney that he does not have an automatic right to a starting place and he needs to dedicate himself to United in the way Ryan Giggs has - and Ferguson himself does.
Ferguson said his team selection was purely tactical, that Danny Welbeck was better-suited to subduing Xabi Alonso. Welbeck played well, and United, until Nani's dismissal, were in command, but Rooney could have done the same task. Rooney has the tactical awareness to play a stifling role as well as an attacking one and one of his qualities is his preparedness to do a job even when it involves sacrificing himself for the team.
That is on the pitch. The question Ferguson appears to be asking is whether Rooney, 27, is prepared to make the same sacrifices off the pitch. Lee Sharpe recalled Ferguson once told him he could do his partying when he was 40 but Sharpe had thought, 'I don't want to wait until I'm 40, I want to do it now, while I'm still young'. It is a perfectly understandable response, even more so when a player is already financially made for life and has won most of the prizes there to be won. Rooney is not the party animal Sharpe was, but neither is he as dedicated to his profession as the Neville brothers - not many players are.
Rooney's talent gives him some leeway, that much is clear from Ferguson's olive branch yesterday, but the team comes before everything for Ferguson. Between now and the start of next season, when negotiations should be underway for his contract renewal, Rooney needs to convince Ferguson he feels the same.
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