Sam Wallace: Ferguson is right to put duty of care before World Cup

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The Independent Online

It is fair to say that Sir Alex Ferguson is no fan of the England football team. He won't be settling down on his sofa on 10 June with a George Cross newly painted on his face. Ask the Fergusons why 1966 was special and they are likely to tell you it was the year young Alex married Cathy at Martha Street register office in Glasgow.

But there is an enormous difference between being a disputatious Scotsman with a big football club to run and agitating for Wayne Rooney not to play at the World Cup finals out of sheer spite.

Yesterday, Ferguson told us that he would do everything he could to get Rooney fit next month, a promise he made to the player as he lay stricken on the treatment table at Stamford Bridge four weeks ago. It may be difficult to accept but there is no conspiracy from Ferguson against England, Sven Goran Eriksson or the Football Association - just a duty of care from a manager to his player.

Throughout the maelstrom that has engulfed Rooney since 29 April - the pressure from sponsors, from world governing bodies and the media - it is easy to lose sight of one fact. With 32 years experience in his profession Ferguson has a responsibility to tell a young man what is best for him. It is a duty that he feels more strongly when he hears the rest of the world trying to drown out his voice.

With the Scotland The Brave ringtone on his mobile and his fondness for crediting major historical achievements to fellow Scotsmen, Ferguson has been a very convenient villain for the English. Rooney's injury was cruel and unfair but there is no one to blame. Not Paulo Ferreira, not the Stamford Bridge turf, not Nike boots and certainly not Ferguson. Accepting that is hard.

We have of course been here before four years ago with David Beckham. If you think Ferguson sounds grumpy about Rooney now, you should have heard him then. As the hysteria over Beckham's foot grew he wanted no part of it - sensing perhaps that the player, and all his associate interests, had spiralled out of his control.

But Ferguson was right. Beckham went to Japan half fit, had a poor World Cup and, not long after, most of us decided he probably should never have played in the first place. Accepting that fact a lot earlier - and telling Beckham to deal with it - might have served England a whole lot better.

Ferguson is accused of only wanting Rooney to be fit for next season. Of course he does. He is the manager of Manchester United, employed to protect his players and get the best from them. If that means telling a disappointed young man that he will be missing the 2006 World Cup, but with the right care and a sensible attitude he could still be around to play in the 2018 World Cup, so be it.

When Rooney flourished at Euro 2004 most agreed he had grown too big for Everton and once it was accepted that he had to leave, United seemed the best option. A big club with a belief in giving talent its chance and a crafty old manager who could handle the best young players.

None of that has changed. Ferguson is still the master of developing young footballers, and no one would seriously argue that Rooney has gone backwards at Old Trafford. Yes, Ferguson may come across as a bit of a bully when he tells us that Rooney has a serious injury and may not play in Germany. And, no, he does not always give us the news that we wanted to hear. But that is what he is paid to do.

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