Wayne Rooney appeals for respect after his 'extremely painful' week

Moyes tries to take heat out of prodigal son's return but fans prepare a hostile welcome
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The Independent Online

Wayne Rooney's activities seem to have drawn the red and blue halves of Merseyside together. Several proposed Rooney chants for today's Goodison Park encounter between Everton and Manchester United were washing through the Twitter community yesterday and Liverpool supporters were delighted with them. "Genius. Fair play to them if they actually do it," one fan tweeted.

And will Rooney – who with his wife Coleen pleaded last night for privacy amid "the many inaccurate and intrusive stories" – have lost sleep over the welcome which awaits him this lunchtime? The answer to this question resides in David Moyes' disclosure yesterday that he had recently contacted Rooney to ask if he would be willing to play for an Everton XI at Anfield in Jamie Carragher's testimonial game last Saturday and received an enthusiastic "yes". "Wayne was keen to play," Moyes said. "We couldn't get him but if [it had been] possible Wayne would have played in that game."

To clarify: that is Rooney agreeing to return to play in front of 35,000 people, some of whom have never forgiven him for leaving their club in 2004, at a stadium whose fans have never really forgiven his existence. If he was enthusiastic for that, then we know for sure that this week will not have created the remotest anxiety for Rooney the footballer that it might have done for Rooney the husband and father.

More's the pity that Moyes' approach to Rooney never bore fruit, of course. The Everton manager's informal contact with United's Sir Alex Ferguson about the idea led him to believe there may be a chance of Rooney averting what proved to be a 4-1 defeat for the Everton side. But international responsibilities, with England facing Bulgaria and Switzerland, proved an insurmountable object to an appearance which would have put Rooney on Merseyside on the day the scandal broke.

Moyes' gesture is still a revealing one, though. The manager, aware of his former prodigy's impending return to Goodison, felt it would further remove the heat from an occasion which has become less vitriolic for Rooney in recent years. It was in keeping with his decision, the day before the last such encounter in February, to disclose Rooney's apology for libelling him in his biography.

"The hostility has changed," Moyes said yesterday. He was talking about fans' feelings, though the same might be said of the two of them. Moyes actually seems to be developing an affection for Rooney as the years pass and the old wounds heal.

To judge by Moyes' steadfast refusal to discuss the ramifications of the sex scandal yesterday, you wondered whether Ferguson had contacted his compatriot asking him to close ranks. "I think if you are a good football journalist you don't ask that question," Moyes said when that question was finally put. "If you are a gossip journalist you do ask that question."

Which was a decidedly more subtle reply than that of Ferguson, who was lobbed a couple of gentle half volleys about Rooney but made it clear that three strikes on that subject and he would be out of the room. "Listen, I am not discussing any of my players' personally. OK? Let's put that to bed," Ferguson said. And a few minutes later ... "I am not going into that. Please, have you not heard what I said?"

Moyes is under no illusion that the raw atmosphere nurtured by the wonderfully intimate Goodison environment is something some United players – who were gently reminded by Ferguson's press conference of the way Everton "slaughtered" them 3-1 last February – will have no fear of. "[Paul] Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs go out there and in a way thrive on it. It's the drug which keeps them playing. They are experienced, and they maybe need the bigger games and their atmosphere than they do the smaller games. It's maybe what keeps those boys going and keeps them young."

Still, Merseyside, both blue and red, has had a curious effect on Rooney, who has still scored only once for the visiting side at Goodison and twice at Anfield for United. Ferguson is highly unlikely to remove the 24-year-old from the line of fire – "it wouldn't matter if we had Dixie Dean playing for us, it is always a bloody nightmare going there but we've only lost there three times in 24 years," he pointed out. But the effect on Rooney come 12.45pm is difficult to predict. United are still waiting for a performance from him to equal the match-winning one against Bulgaria at Wembley eight days ago. Granted, he has only two League games behind him but Dimitar Berbatov, displaying such improbable levels of commitment that you sense Ferguson may have tackled the issue of his languid style in the close season, is the one who has been catching the eye. After Rooney's penalty strike against West Ham, he was a fairly absent figure. In Basle on Tuesday night, he simply didn't look fit. Ferguson, who may be hearted that last night's Rooney statement suggested he and his wife were attempting "to resolve... issues," can only hope that the controversy is a catalyst.

Everton's Mikel Arteta, for one, certainly won't be offering up any triumphalist Tweets before this lunchtime. Great players can take inspiration from crisis, he observed – "and it can make it worse for you because they can react and show what they are able to do. Look at [Cristiano] Ronaldo after the [2006] World Cup when he was involved in that stuff with Rooney. At every ground the fans were getting on his back, and he reacted by having his best season."

What the papers said how the rooney scandal unfolded this week

Sunday The News of the World breaks the story Wayne Rooney allegedly cheated on his wife Coleen with a £1,200 a night prostitute,Jennifer Thompson, while she was pregnant with their son.

Monday The Daily Star leads with Coleen’s fury with her husband – reportedly telling him to leave the home they share. The paper saysRooney is devastated and may be unable to play against Switzerland.

Tuesday The Sun writes that the couple are on the verge of splitting up because of the allegations – while Rooney has travelled to Basle with support from the England squad and manager Fabio Capello.

Wednesday Rooney makes the headlines for the right reasons – scoring the opener against Switzerland in the 3-1 win, but his muted celebration shows the stress he is under after the allegations came out.

Thursday The Sun labels the striker a sleazeball, saying he was a serial pest while drunk at the club’s christmas party. The Star has Everton defender Phil Jagielka saying he will get “slaughtered” by the Toffees fans on Saturday, and says extra police will be at the match at Goodison Park

Yesterday The Daily Mirror writes Rooney is prepared to miss vital games for United, including today’s match, to salvage his marriage.Coleen has apparently already spoken to lawyers to discuss a divorce.

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