Rooney doing the hard yards on his road to redemption
He has said sorry, is back in the goals and is trying to open up via Twitter. Ian Herbert reports on the striker's search for forgiveness
It does not come easy to Wayne Rooney, all this self-analysis. There is a nervous little laugh when it is put to him, as he makes to leave Schalke's ground late on Tuesday night, that he is now repaying Manchester United's fans for so nearly betraying them. The same embarrassment is there in his voice when it is suggested that the second half of this season is turning out rather better than the first. And the written word simply cannot convey how obvious it is that Rooney was not made to stand in the depths of a stadium, a carton of coffee in his hand, and say: "I'm a lot happier in my life. It's almost been like having to settle down again."
Such are the conversations which have become a part of his life in the past six months, though. Rooney has been on a long, unfinished road in search of redemption from the United fans ever since the October night when he declared, through a press statement issued two hours and 10 minutes before United's Champions League tie with Bursaspor, that he doubted the club's viability and might leave. "Coleen forgave you Wayne, we won't," read one of the banners raised that evening. "Who's the whore now, Wayne?" was another. Rooney seems to be grasping for any new way to apologise now. His rhetorical question in the depths of the Veltins-Arena – "you know, when you look at it now... how wrong was I" – was so untypically him that you half-imagined he had been practising it in front of the mirror back in Prestbury.
This has only been a part of the journey back, though. The past six months have also purposefully taken us into Wayne's world, a process in which his arrival on Twitter last Saturday is just another contributory part. The creation of @wazzaroon08 is actually not as orchestrated as it might seem. Rooney's agent, Paul Stretford, is understood to have doubted the wisdom of his client delivering his random impressions, not unreasonably believing that this could be a disaster waiting to happen. Rooney's wife, Coleen, and Rio Ferdinand are the ones who have encouraged him. But it is another way of demonstrating where Rooney's soul lies – and that he has one.
The effect has been so good because it has seemed so uncalculating. Ferdinand's tweeting has helped construct a sharp commercial image you feel will serve him when he has retired. Cristiano Ronaldo's reads like something his PR man has typed. Rooney's is so homespun that you know it could only be him, speaking from his room at Essen's Atlantic Congress hotel on Monday evening, telling us that he is listening to The Beatles and that no track is better than I Want To Hold Your Hand. (His profile picture of himself and Coleen, and this week's schmaltzy exchange between them on the merits of characters from the US teenage drama Gossip Girl seem to be part of a more public repair job to the personal damage that was done by Rooney's affair last year.) The picture has been building in other ways. The 25-year-old's interview with United's in-house TV station on New Year's Eve was an extraordinarily detailed insight into his religiousness, pre-match prayers in the physio's room and the iPod he wears in the dressing room because Patrice Evra's taste for R&B and reggae differs from his own musical preferences (Susan Boyle is a favourite, with a love of Perry Como and Frankie Valli passed on by his grandfather). Gradually, the indignant individual who initially dismissed some of the reporting of his transfer talks as "a load of rubbish" has gravitated into the most absorbing source of mixed-zone conversation. The first apology came after United's win on such an occasion – 24 November after the 1-0 victory at Rangers – a month after Ferguson had promised it. "Everyone keeps saying that I haven't said sorry and, if that is the case, then I apologise for my side of things," Rooney said, still mildly chippy. By 15 March, the tone was far warmer. "Unless I'm ever not wanted then I'll be staying here, that's for sure."
In Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night, he seemed to want to move on beyond this issue and there was evidence to suggest that his manager has done as much. Ferguson's first known description of Rooney as "Wazza" in a pre-match interview while in Germany hinted that things really have softened. So, too, the pair's high jinks on the Veltins-Arena pitch on Monday night, Rooney's joke sending an explosion of laughter through the squad and Ferguson then holding him in a head lock. That certainly didn't look scripted.
None of this would have occurred, of course, had Rooney not been restored to his old powers. The season had brought him just two goals by New Year's Day but there have been 12 goals in 20 starts since – which tells its own story. No performance has bettered the FA Cup quarter-final defeat of Arsenal on 12 March, while the goal against Manchester City at Old Trafford – to his mind his best ever, we now know from @wazzaroon08 – and the Upton Park hat-trick (which was obscured by his scream into a camera) had reaffirmed his status as United's most influential player at home and abroad, long before the display in Schalke. The FA Cup semi-final with City, 12 days ago, might also have taken a different course if Rooney had not been trapped in a shirt and tie, shaking his head from the bench as Dimitar Berbatov spurned the two chances that might have turned the match.
To see Rooney on the flight out to Germany on Monday – nestled comfortably between the frames of Jonny Evans and John O'Shea – was to imagine that last year never existed and though the road to redemption has not been entirely smooth – there was the elbow at Wigan as well as the abuse at West Ham – Ferguson knows that events like that will always be a part of the Rooney narrative.
Now, the manager can only wait to see if he can deliver a level of performance in a Champions League final which eluded him against Barcelona two years ago. There is a significant difference. While he and Cristiano Ronaldo were two brilliant individuals and Rooney generally the one in the shade, Rooney and Javier Hernandez are a pair. If Rome 2009 was billed as the Ronaldo v Messi final, there is no reason why Wembley 2011 cannot be Rooney v Messi, or indeed Rooney v Ronaldo. Rooney certainly shook off the embarrassment on Tuesday night when enthusing on his new role behind Hernandez. "It was where I played a lot when I was younger and I'm enjoying it. You can get on the ball and create and score goals."
It was a mixed zone many moons removed from the one on that grim night against Bursaspor, when Evans and Nemanja Vidic looked shocked to the core by Rooney's statement, as they trudged towards the stadium exit. The one player who spoke out against Rooney that evening was Evra and you imagine that some kind of reckoning has been needed with him. The left-back hurriedly shuffled on as Rooney moved in to talk in the Schalke mixed zone late on Tuesday night but not before conveying an opinion. "Sometimes in your life you have some problems but now you see he just gives something back," Evra said. "Maybe this is his way to say sorry to the fans."
* @themichaelowen is getting worked on ronnie osullivan snooker on iPad. I am destroying him haha.
* Hi tweeps just left stadium thought we were class today hope u all enjoyed. Thx to everyones good luck messages. Giggs. Wow. He's unreal.
* Morning all in room listening to the beatles. Best band ever in my opinion. Excited for tonight. Come on the red men.
* Come on Celtic get a win today and win league. Come on the hoops.
* The Easter bunny was kind to Kai this year. Biting through wrapping paper haha he's so funny.
* Hi all this is Wayne Rooney just started so bare with me. Hope all is well. I'll get rio to approve it's me guys. Xoxo.
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