Wayne Rooney eyes better times ahead... with Manchester United
Striker relishing return to his club after another unfulfilling tournament campaign with England
Wayne Rooney might be licking his wounds over England's Euro 2012 exit, but it will not be long before Manchester United matters are on his mind again.
The striker is starting his annual summer break to a background of general discontent regarding his performances in Ukraine this summer. In addition, a seemingly innocuous comment about the England camp being a better place as a direct result of the new manager, Roy Hodgson, having full command of English seems to have annoyed Fabio Capello.
Yet the Italian former England coach's caustic comments about Rooney only understanding Scottish may, indirectly, have an element of truth about them. After all, while there have been a couple of significant fallouts, the 26-year-old seems to react better to the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, than to anyone else.
While Rooney can hardly be blamed for United selecting yesterday to highlight on their website an interview he gave them for their official diary of the 2011-12 season, entitled "Fight to the Finish", the comments reinforce a perception that United will always get the best of their star forward.
"I think we've all learnt a lot," said Rooney. "There have been a lot of games where you get a feeling afterwards that you never want to have again. Hopefully, we can get hold of that feeling and make sure it doesn't happen again. Just look at all the young players in the squad: they've played a lot of games, had a lot of ups and downs and most of them are already getting selected for their national teams.
"That's all going to help them. The next two or three years will be a big test for them and I'm sure we'll all pull through it."
Rooney's assessment was of a season that brought staggering low points for United, including a 6-1 home defeat by Manchester City; a defeat by Basle in December which led to them crashing out of the Champions League; and two games in which they were comprehensively outplayed by Athletic Bilbao, who finished mid-table in La Liga, in the Europa League. All these games left significant scars.
United nonetheless overcame all that to establish an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League with just six games remaining, only to toss away the advantage and offer City a run to their first title in 44 years. Sergio Aguero's last-gasp, final-day goal at the Etihad Stadium then ripped the prize from their grasp.
Those setbacks, though, cannot be ignored. Ferguson, who returned to work this week, has begun the task of reshaping his squad with the arrival of the Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. The England Under-19 international Nick Powell has been snapped up from Crewe Alexandra as Ferguson keeps an eye on the future.
Nevertheless, more will be required, even though actually piecing together a squad is not going to be easy for Ferguson, given the competing demands of Euro 2012 and the forthcoming London Olympics.
Of the United squad, only Portugal's Nani remained on active service in Poland and Ukraine as the semi-finals began. However, Ferguson prefers to give his players a minimum of three weeks off, meaning that those who have been involved in Euro 2012 in any way will miss some, if not all, of the club's pre-season tour to South Africa and Ukraine.
In addition, the goalkeeper David de Gea is certain to be required for Olympic duty by Spain and Ferguson can expect to lose more players, including possibly Ryan Giggs, when the Great Britain coach, Stuart Pearce, names his squad. United are also providing three players – Sam Johnstone, Tom Thorpe and Michael Keane – for England's Under-19 European Championship campaign next month.
United's captain, Nemanja Vidic, is not expected to travel on the pre-season tour either, as when he returns for duty next week he will be stepping up the rehabilitation work after a cruciate operation.
According to United's reserve-team coach, Warren Joyce, Ryan Tunnicliffe will be among the young players who are set to be retained next season, but Keane will be sent out on loan.
"There's bound to be interest from the Championship as they both did well last year," Joyce said yesterday. "The reserves won everything and Keane won the [reserves'] player of the year. For sure he will go out on loan but Tunnicliffe may well be around the first team."
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