Ian Herbert: Ferguson can show once again he is the great man-manager

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Well, that really was the easy bit. The pre-match stadium anthem in Basle on Tuesday night was Status Quo's "Whatever you Want", which neatly summed up the Swiss defence's generosity towards Wayne Rooney. Now, in the space of four days, he must encounter both his wife and Everton's fans, both of whom believe they have suffered the greatest act of infidelity imaginable. And looming into view behind those two obstacles are the massed supporters of Rangers and Liverpool – who are Manchester United's next opponents. Not really what Rooney wanted.

The events of the past five days are certainly enough to allow David Moyes a wry smile. Moyes was characterised in Rooney's biography 'My Story So Far' as an overbearing and controlling individual – a depiction for which the striker has since apologised – and it was only eight months ago the Everton manager finally tried to explain that he had tried to instil the discipline, including substituting a disgusted Rooney at Bolton a few days after he had flown to Madrid to take part in a Coca-Cola commercial, for a reason. "All I ever wanted to do was handle Wayne like Sir Alex handled Ryan Giggs," he said. "I looked at it and thought, 'Who could guide me?'"

Moyes' instincts seem to have been right all along. Except that Giggs, whose worst misdemeanour came on the night Ferguson hunted down Lee Sharpe at a house party but failed to find the winger cowering in a cupboard, has never needed the management Rooney does.The question now is how Ferguson will deal with this mess.

With equanimity, for sure. The marital strife story is one that Ferguson has encountered many times, in many guises, before. He has also been on the receiving end of a kiss-and-tell story headlines from Aberdeen, which he has always vigorously denied – and there will be no confrontation when Rooney returns to training at Carrington, possibly not until today. A good allusion – if not an entirely comparable one – is the night Ferguson was dragged, bleary-eyed, from his bed 13 years ago, having been informed by telephone call that Roy Keane had been accused of assaulting a woman in a Manchester city-centre bar during a drinking session that followed one of United's championship triumphs.

Ferguson masked his horror at United being paraded across the front pages of the tabloids again and said: "Tell me the story, Roy." Keane unburdened his anguish at the effects of the incident on his wife, Theresa, their then young family, his own family back in Cork and the club. Ferguson has never revealed the details of their conversation, but suffice it to say that Keane has never drunk publicly since; nor, it is claimed, privately.

The encounter with Rooney will be similar. Ferguson will draw his prime talent into the United fold, a protective place against malign outside forces, as he increasingly likes to characterise it. If there is a sharp word to be delivered then it will be about the £200 which was dispensed to a hotel porter, to fetch 20 Marlboro – not the money, but the latest evidence that Rooney is smoking. But beyond that, Ferguson has the knack of using adversity to bind player and club together.

That's not to say there will not be disappointment at this alleged act of betrayal. While Ferguson was always contemptuous of Victoria Beckham and the distraction he felt she posed to her husband, David, he saw something different in Coleen McLoughlin. "She's a clever girl, who is down to earth. She's good," he said a few years ago and was delighted to hear that Rooney was to marry. "Marriage helps footballers. It helps them settle down," he added. "You know where they are, too. It's good for the stability of a footballer."

That was not to be in this case, despite curious indications that marriage had changed Rooney, including the prominent cross he wore at the World Cup this summer. "It's my religion. I've been wearing them for years now," he said of the cross. In retrospect, the gesture looks like penance.

How much Ferguson will risk intruding on the personal aspect of the controversy is a matter for his own judgement. Since United need Rooney as much as he needs the club, the manager will give it the deepest thought. But he will not find the conversation onerous. Ferguson has always seen Rooney as one of his own and no one's powers of communication with the striker are quite like his. When the Englishman last presented him with a major man-management challenge – after he and Cristiano Ronaldo returned from the 2006 World Cup with daggers drawn – the football world expected a lasting fissure to run between two of the club's finest talents. Within two years they were carving out the deadly partnership which took Ronaldo to 41 goals in a season and United to the European Cup.

Rooney's reaction to the abuse which will flow in the next two weeks may make him less of the force United would want as they seek to restart their season. Temperamentally, he is less capable of blocking it out than Paul Ince was when he went back to West Ham and Eric Cantona to Leeds. But it is difficult to see lasting damage on the field of play. A permanent break with his formidably capable wife is a different case entirely, but one over which both Rooney and his manager may now have little control.