Return of the red devil: Red-card Rooney is a 'marked man' claims Ferguson

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The Independent Football

The consequences of over-indulgence were laid bare before Wayne Rooney and Manchester United last night when, a mere 34 days after his red card in the quarter-final of the World Cup, the striker was once again sent off for violent conduct against Portuguese opposition.

The setting was neither as dramatic nor as crucial as the July day in Gelsenkirchen when the 20-year-old was dismissed for a stamp on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho, but in the opening game of the Amsterdam Tournament, United 3-1 victory against FC Porto, the England international demonstrated he has learnt nothing from the third red card of his brief career by inviting the fourth.

Leaping for a high-ball with Porto's Pepe in the 41st minute, Rooney caught the Brazilian-born centre-half in mid-air with his forearm and, in an instant, his final act of the World Cup was replayed. Again Portuguese players surrounded the striker, his victim maximised the contact to the extent of leaving the field with a large bag of ice attached to his head, and again the referee, Dutchman Ruud Bossen, had no hesitation in reaching for the red card.

Though Rooney could claim the collision was as accidental as the step on Carvalho, the fact that his talent and his temperament have made him one of the most marked men in world football was again lost on a player who could now miss the first three games of new Premiership season through suspension. It is now time for his managers, for club and country, and his advisers to explain that development to him rather than excusing his every folly.

"The sending-off of Wayne Rooney was unfair and that [being a marked man] is an element we are worried about," said the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. "I couldn't tell you what the referee was thinking. One minute before the same defender had elbowed [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer in the air and the referee warned him but did not even show him a yellow card, never mind a red. A minute later it was Wayne Rooney and he is sent off. I couldn't see any difference except that one is called Wayne Rooney."

Together with the dismissal of Paul Scholes in the 67th minute for a dangerous two-footed challenge on the Portuguese international and former United-target Quaresma, plus an ankle injury suffered by Rio Ferdinand in the warm-up, Ferguson had more to dwell upon than the win should have allowed.

"I thought the referee was going to give a free-kick for a foul on me because of the defender backing in," Rooney said. "I cannot believe he has sent me off for that." Yet this was Rooney's third dismissal in 11 months.

Ferguson could now be left with a depleted strikeforce for the opening Premiership game of the season against Fulham if referee Bossen includes both Rooney's and Scholes' reds in his official match report. The United manager, yet to replace Ruud Van Nistelrooy, whose name was again chanted by the travelling Old Trafford contingent, has vowed to rest Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo on the opening weekend following their World Cup exploits and will be without Rooney in the unlikely event that his misconduct is taken any further.

Bossen will not only have to report the incidents to the Dutch Football Association, but the Dutch FA would also have to pass on the charge to its English counterpart for a suspension to come into effect. It is often a stipulation of these pre-season friendly tournaments that officialdom never goes that far, but the threat is there.

"That is a real worry for us and we can only hope that fairness comes into it," Ferguson said. "Rooney's sending-off was unfair; their player made more of it than he should have done and that is endemic in our game today, but Paul Scholes had no excuses. It was a tackle from behind, he took the player and already had a yellow card. I feel Wayne Rooney was very unfortunate, but there can be no excuses for Paul Scholes."

Ironically, Scholes and Rooney had established a convincing platform for United's victory with a goal apiece in the opening 20 minutes. First Scholes drove a low shot into the bottom corner of the Porto goal in the 12th minute after taking receipt of a corner from Michael Carrick, who formed an instant rapport with his central midfield colleague. Then, in the 20th minute, Rooney took advantage of a ricochet off the Porto defender Bosingwa to sprint into the penalty area and send a nonchalant chip over goalkeeper Helton. With Solskjaer adding another excellent third late in the second half and Pepe finding the top corner from 25-yards in the 76th minute, this should have been a friendly to saviour. It was anything but.

Rooney's other dismissals

* DECEMBER 2002 The first red card of Rooney's professional career came as an Everton 17-year-old for a two-footed tackle on Birmingham's Steve Vickers at St Andrew's.

* SEPTEMBER 2005 Rooney reacted to a harsh booking by sarcastically applauding Kim Milton Nielsen's decision right under the referee's nose against Villarreal. It left the man who sent off David Beckham during the 1998 World Cup with little alternative than to show Rooney a second yellow.

* JULY 2006 Given a straight red in the World Cup quarter-final against Portugal. Sent off following a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and a confrontation with Cristiano Ronaldo.

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