James Lawton: Role reversal at Anfield as the enfant terrible refuses to reprise his walks on the wild side

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Maybe, though, he did add a classic rider to his midweek advice to his young, overheated Manchester United and England team-mate. Perhaps he said: "Do as I say, not as I do."

Whatever the case, someone at Old Trafford did get through the vital words that while Rooney long ago established himself as the most dynamic talent in the land and potentially the world, his forthcoming 20th birthday has to be accompanied by a sharp injection of discipline. This has already plainly happened at Old Trafford sometime over the last few days and it was made clear by another burst of body language when United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, replaced this tempestuous teenager in the 89th minute.

Ferguson, having decided to settle for the point quite some time earlier, threw an arm around the boy as he crossed the touchline and the response was respectful, even affectionate.

Rooney, who gave the impression that he had been auditioning for a part in a re-make of The Exorcist in the recent games in Belfast and Spain, had certainly stepped into a new role.

This message at least was easy enough to translate: the enfant terrible has been going through a formative stage rather than a complete emotional meltdown. It's true he did receive a brief lecture from the referee, Rob Styles, for some less than flattering remarks, but Rooney, relatively speaking, was back in control of himself.

This was something that couldn't be said of Ferdinand when he launched his attack on Crouch, who he believed had gone down too easily under a challenge from Mikaël Silvestre. Here, cause and effect was absolutely no mystery. Crouch had been the cause of steady embarrassment to the United defence with his easy mastery in the air and his adroit work on the ground - something that could well be exploited more effectively once Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, decides that he must work to put in place a little more creativity to balance his work on a defensive fortress. While the Champions' League winners have yet to concede a Premiership goal, they have scored just one and the chances of an addition yesterday were fleeting indeed.

This was certainly not the message of intent to check runaway Chelsea that lovers of serious competition were hopeful of before the kick-off. This was largely due to the exemplary defence at both ends and not least in the second half when, after Xabi Alonso came on to his game impressively and Steven Gerrard brought a good, if maybe over-egged save from Edwin van der Sar, Ferdinand began to play with the aplomb his talent demands.

Liverpool were the more aggressive force in the second half but they continued to look a work in progress, a fact which remains stunning when you reflect on the manager's instant success in bringing a fifth European Cup to Anfield.

The most persistent problem remains the lack of authority that is most often expressed by Luis Garcia's quite appalling economy rate. We know he is capable of stunningly surprising goals. No doubt Benitez continues to see him as a vital force of the unexpected. But on yesterday's evidence there must be a point when the manager adds up the cumulative loss of possession and does something to tighten the team's work going forward.

For United, solving the problem of winning parity with Chelsea remains hauntingly elusive. There were times, especially in the first half when they displayed a combination of potency and determination that made them the likelier winners. However, Liverpool's fine defence gradually neutralised the threat of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney.

Long before the end a draw became the obvious outcome, but it was a pause in the great imperative of matching Chelsea, one dictated by a matching strength in defence. What was needed was something outrageous, something on the wild side. But from the most likely author of such behaviour, Wayne Rooney, that was something which in the circumstances maybe inevitably had to wait.

Comments