Wayne Rooney was omitted from the Manchester United line-up yesterday because Sir Alex Ferguson feared he would receive "terrible abuse" from the Everton supporters among whom the England striker once counted himself.
Rooney played alongside Dimitar Berbatov at United's Carrington training headquarters on Friday and stayed overnight with the squad at the Lowry Hotel in Salford – the scene of his alleged £1,200-a-night trysts with a prostitute when his wife Coleen was pregnant with their 10-month-old son, Kai.
But when United's team coach pulled up outside Goodison Park, Rooney was nowhere to be seen, having been left in the Lowry by Ferguson. "We made a decision simply because he gets terrible abuse here," the Scot said, having told reporters 24 hours earlier he would not countenance questions about the player's "private life".
The United manager added: "We were not going to subject him because of the terrible abuse he gets. We've got a fantastic squad and we'll use them." As is his custom, he did not hold a post-match press conference, but pointedly was neither asked nor commented on Rooney's exclusion when interviewed by Sky after the dramatic 3-3 draw. Ferguson's assistant, Mike Phelan, said: "There was no big decision. Wayne wasn't ready to play, so he didn't play."
David Moyes, the manager who gave Rooney his debut as a 16-year-old, was reluctant to comment before the match, saying only: "He's not playing for Everton, so I can't do anything about it. I wish he did play for Everton."
Rooney, who signed for Everton when he was 10, has returned to play at Goodison six times since leaving for Old Trafford in a £27m deal in 2004, scoring twice and leaving victorious three times. On each occasion he was subjected to stick, to use the football vernacular, much good-humoured and some nearer the knuckle. His relationship with this boyhood favourites has soured over the years. Rooney once celebrated a goal for Everton by pulling up his top to reveal a T-shirt inscribed "Once a Blue, Always a Blue". United fans now sport shirts bearing the legend, "Once a Blue, Always a Red."
After Jenny Thompson's lurid tabloid claims, Ferguson clearly reasoned that to play him would be to expose the 24-year-old, his wife and her family to unnecessary unpleasantness. In the event, the only songs about Rooney to turn the air blue came from the United contingent, although a plastic inflatable naked woman almost made it on to the pitch late in the first half.
Such pre-emptive action is unprecedented in Ferguson's 24 years at United. When, for instance, Eric Cantona returned to Leeds after forsaking them for United, the build-up focused on the hostile reception awaiting him. Elland Road responded with all the bile it could muster, but Cantona never missed a game there.
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Luis Figo: When he returned to Barcelona as a Real Madrid player in 2002, whisky bottles and lighters were thrown in the Nou Camp. On his second return, a severed pig's head was thrown on to the pitch.
Sol Campbell: Former Tottenham defender's return to White Hart Lane as an Arsenal player in 2001 provoked signs reading 'Judas'.
Ashley Cole: When Arsenal went to Chelsea after his big-money move, Gunners fans waved £20 notes at 'Cashley' with his face embossed on them.
Frank Lampard: Just like yesterday, always lambasted by fans when he returns to Upton Park with Chelsea.Reuse content