Abramovich glimpses the genius who got away

Click to follow
The Independent Football

"The Man" himself was here to see it and this was Chelsea's chance to view on their own turf the one that got away. Or, rather, the one they decided to pass on. Wayne Rooney's first appearance at Stamford Bridge this season could have been made several months ago - and not last night - if Peter Kenyon, the club's chief executive, had not persuaded Roman Abramovich to think again about bidding for the teenager.

"The Man" himself was here to see it and this was Chelsea's chance to view on their own turf the one that got away. Or, rather, the one they decided to pass on. Wayne Rooney's first appearance at Stamford Bridge this season could have been made several months ago - and not last night - if Peter Kenyon, the club's chief executive, had not persuaded Roman Abramovich to think again about bidding for the teenager.

Abramovich was in attendance last night, and Rooney was in Manchester United red having completed his three-match ban for the push in the face of a Bolton Wanderers defender. If that was eye-catching - and almost catching an eye for Talal Ben Haim - then the first half-hour here was a study in operating on the margins.

Pushed left, initially, before going right, briefly, Rooney had six contacts with the ball during that time. Which was more an indictment of his deployment and his team-mates' inability to find him than Rooney's own performance. For when he had the ball he threatened, he improvised, he thought one step ahead, sometimes two. More than that his delivery from corners and crosses was precise. From one he planted the ball onto the head of Louis Saha, from the other he found midfielder Darren Fletcher.

Too often, however, he was charged with tracking back, running from deep, keeping to those margins, covering the Chelsea full-back Paulo Ferreira as United matched their hosts' formation. Nevertheless, Rooney threatened with a clever jink, and then a controlled volley before twisting and flicking the ball narrowly past the far post. Suddenly he was alive. On 38 minutes he came even closer, the closest the game had come in fact. Again he created it, drifting out away from the play and then checking back in, reaching Fletcher's cross and smartly, with a controlled, snapped header forcing a fine save from Carlo Cudicini. It cried out for Sir Alex Ferguson to let him further off the leash. He needed to be given his head, to work nearer to goal and gradually the United manager recognised that, pushing him alongside Saha.

Chelsea had decided not to bid for Rooney, of course, because Kenyon felt, it is believed, that he had the potential to self-destruct, to be another Paul Gascoigne figure. Here he displayed a discipline rarely found in Gazza. And, furthermore, Rooney retained that bit of flair and devilment that, despite the brilliance of Jose Mourinho's team, Abramovich continues to crave. The Russian made his feelings known to Kenyon when he sat and watched, on television, last autumn as Rooney scored that brilliant hat-trick on his Champions' League debut against Fenerbahce immediately after signing for United. An all-too-frank phone call was made to Kenyon, who may now argue that subsequent events, and Rooney's flickering form and temperament vindicated his hard-headed stance.

Last night was not the Rooney of last summer. It was not a Rooney worth £27.1m which, if anyone needed reminding, was more than Chelsea, despite their spending, have parted with for any single player. But he remained the most originally threatening, and most direct, player on show and that will not have gone unnoticed. And nor will his prodigious work-rate.

Into the second-half the effectiveness of his contributions grew. Rooney was pumped up, but with a purpose. A free-kick was won, Cudicini spilled the ball in a challenge, William Gallas was later left scrambling to block a shot. The catcalls of abuse from the home crowd grew - Rooney's weight, his appearance - but they were also a sure sign of rising concern. His contest with Ferreira continued and he showed admirable stamina and alertness he keep pace with one of the Premiership's quickest defenders.

It was not one of Rooney's best performances, of course. That, perhaps, was too much to ask. But it was one of his most mature, one of his most-disciplined and alert without losing his aggression. And that, for Kenyon, will have answered some of his doubts. Abramovich walked away after the match with his phone to his ear. Maybe "the man" was on the phone to his chief executive.

Comments