Eriksson set to defy Ferguson on return of Rooney

Sven Goran Eriksson had a serious dispute with Sir Alex Ferguson over Wayne Rooney's fitness on Wednesday and he is now prepared to defy the Manchester United manager once again - and the advice of the country's leading orthopaedic surgeon - by risking the player in the group stages of the World Cup finals.

Another extraordinary 24 hours in the recovery of Rooney has revealed Eriksson to be uncharacteristically tenacious in his desire to have the 20-year-old back in his team, although at a potentially great cost. Should Rooney be called back early - before 20 June - United believe that he would be at serious risk of further injury. That is a risk that, it seems, Eriksson is now prepared to take.

It was this basic conflict that lay at the heart of Wednesday's intense negotiations between United and the FA. The day ended with Rooney back in Germany and a dramatic statement from the club in the early hours yesterday, when Wednesday's course of events became clear.

In the morning Eriksson announced that Rooney's bone had healed and that all the player needed to play competitive football once again was "match fitness". Eriksson maintained that this was the opinion of Professor Angus Wallace, a leading orthopaedic surgeon, and that it would now be the job of the manager and his England staff to judge when Rooney was ready to play.

Refusing to take questions on the subject, Eriksson said: "I'm prepared to listen to everyone and discuss with them about Rooney, but the last say in this story is Rooney's and mine. I am doing this in the best interest of Rooney, the England team, and 40 million England fans. I don't want any more discussions about Rooney until I tell you I think he is match-fit."

From a manager who has too often bowed to pressure from Ferguson, it looked like an impressive show of strength, but the story was a good deal more complicated. On Wednesday, Professor Wallace had indeed told Eriksson and United that Rooney's bone had healed but he also advised them that to play Rooney before 20 June, when England face Sweden in their last Group B game, would be to put the player at risk of "secondary injuries".

In a lecture delivered directly to Rooney at the Bupa hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, late on Wednesday afternoon, Professor Wallace laid out those risks very clearly. He and United believe that Rooney needs longer than the 11 days left before the Sweden match in Cologne to play again safely. But Eriksson has given no guarantee he will keep to that advice.

First of all, Professor Wallace said that, because Rooney has not played football for 42 days, he is in danger of damaging thigh or hamstring muscles if he is thrown back into full-blooded competitive football before at least two weeks' preparation.

In addition, Professor Wallace told Rooney, a premature return could mean that he overcompensates to protect his injured foot. He also told Rooney that his successful recovery would depend on three factors. First of all, Rooney was told that he had to wear his "orthotics" - specially made insoles for his football boots that give the striker's foot stability and protection.

Rooney was also told he must concentrate on getting fit again. He has lost much of his sharpness in the last 42 days and that could put him in danger of pulling a muscle in another part of his body if he does not gradually build up his strength in training over the next two weeks.

Finally, and this may have had the 20-year-old scrambling for his dictionary, Rooney was told to concentrate on his proprioception, his balance and body shape. That will involve training that ensures Rooney does not place too much pressure on other parts of his body.

However, while Eriksson accepts Professor Wallace's expertise in the question of Rooney's healed bone, he does not believe the specialist has the right to set the date that the player can return to playing. Privately, United find it extraordinary that the Swede, whose own doctor Leif Sward called in Professor Wallace, would reject the specialist's recommendations.

The reason that negotiations went on so long was that United felt that any public statement should make absolutely clear that Professor Wallace had advised Rooney not to play in any of the group games. As it turned out, the player was already back in Germany at the team's Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe base before an announcement had been made on his fitness.

United wanted a joint statement with the FA that laid out Professor Wallace's recommendations, but Eriksson personally blocked their request, which would have prevented him from bringing Rooney on against Sweden. Eventually United released a statement themselves, making clear Professor Wallace's advice.

Yesterday in training Rooney lined up against the 4-4-2 formation - minus Steven Gerrard - that England are expected to field against Paraguay on Saturday. Although he passed the ball, shot and turned, his team-mates stood off him in the tackle and it is likely he will not return to full competitive action, even in training, for some time.

Eriksson did at least confirm Rooney would not figure against Paraguay tomorrow - beyond then it is anyone's, including United's, guess.

* Reports last night claimed the FA have told Professor Wallace they will accept liability for any multi-million pound insurance claim should Rooney be injured during the finals.

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