Rooney: Let's hope Ronaldo misses the World Cup

No love lost as striker admits he would like to see Portugal fail to qualify and hopes to replace old team-mate as world's best player

They were friends once, you suspect, but there is only so much comradeship that can survive at the sharp end of professional football. Wayne Rooney did not have to think for a moment this week when he was asked whether he would care if Cristiano Ronaldo was not at the World Cup finals next summer.

"I'm not really too bothered to be honest if they [Portugal] are there or not," Rooney said. "Obviously we have to concentrate on ourselves. It would be nice to see Portugal not there because the last two tournaments they've knocked us out. We've got to concentrate on what we've got to do."

This was Rooney speaking without the control of his assorted PRs demanding complete control of every utterance, be it on behalf of a soft drink, a PlayStation game or a sportswear company. Freed from the shackles within the England camp – rather like Fabio Capello has freed him in the team itself – Rooney can be engaging and opinionated when the mood takes him.

The season is still only two months old but Rooney is already under no illusions that it is he who will be Manchester United's chief creative force in Ronaldo's absence. It was ever thus for England but at least against Ukraine tomorrow and Belarus four days later, with England safely qualified for the World Cup, the pressure is off. With nine goals already in the campaign, Rooney has done his bit.

Back to Ronaldo, whose Portugal must beat Hungary tomorrow to have any chance of qualifying for South Africa. And then there is Lionel Messi, whose Argentina are struggling as well. If those two failed to make it, the stage would be that much clearer for Rooney to establish himself next summer as the world's best footballer. It is a nebulous concept to say the least but despite Fifa's attempt to make it an official competition, there is always a prevailing unofficial consensus on the world's best footballer.

Rooney had given it some thought. "Of course it [being regarded as the best in the world] motivates you, but it's not something I would go on about or keep talking about. Players are different, but of course that's what you want to be. You want to be the best you can. But I think it's important that you concentrate on the way you play for your team first of all. I've always said that if you win personal honours, that's great, but it's important that you concentrate on the team first."

The Ronaldo question goes to the heart of Rooney's season and the way in which the next nine months might unfold. You get the impression that Rooney retains some affection for his old team-mate but only some. Now that Ronaldo has left United, that old bond which held them together despite Ronaldo's part in Rooney's red card at the 2006 World Cup finals is weaker.

Rooney will still say, generously, that Ronaldo is the best player in the world. "It's clear for everyone," Rooney said. "He scores goals. I've watched his first few games for Madrid and he seems to have improved again." But he does add with a grin. "He's passing the ball a lot more as well."

Ask Ronaldo who he thought the best footballer in the world was and he would probably give the same answer: himself, of course. Rooney came to accept Ronaldo's way. "When he was at United, people said 'He doesn't run back, he doesn't do this,' but look at what he did going forward. As a team we had to realise that if he was as good as that going forward, we had to make up for it by going back. That's what happened and in the last three years we were very successful doing it."

The "going back" responsibility was, in part, shouldered by Rooney. Without Ronaldo United are weaker but Rooney is back in the central striker's position at United that he plays for Capello with England. It is, he said, his ideal role and when he talks about it he refers to "me and Steven [Gerrard]" and the freedom that the two of them have to switch roles throughout the game.

It is a sign of Rooney's growing maturity that it is now possible to ask him a question about his sometimes suspect temper without him looking like he might, well, lose his temper. Referring to his stamp on Ricardo Carvalho that saw him dismissed in the quarter-final against Portugal in 2006 he makes a rare concession. Rooney has – and still does – maintain that it was an accident but now he admits that on replays it "does look like I've stamped".

There have been no bookings for Rooney in this qualifying campaign, which is remarkable given his record. "When it [the temper] is there, people speak about it. And when it's not there, people speak about how much it's gone," he said. "To be honest, it's not something I really think about too much. I just try and play and do the best I can.

"Although you might still play well, if you don't score then, as a forward, the frustration builds up. I'm not saying it makes you do things or stupid tackles, but you do get frustrated. You need to get that balance right and it's important you do because if you go over the top, you'll miss a lot of games through suspension."

At the moment Rooney is, in the language of the therapist, in a good place. Rooney Jnr is due this month; Rooney senior is England's great hope come next summer. As ever, he is probably only one contentious refereeing decision or cunning opponent away from another explosion but it has been good while it has lasted. He smiled when it was pointed out to him that Diego Maradona exited the 1982 World Cup finals with a red card and came back to win it four years later.

Turning 24, a father-in-waiting and the man upon whom much of the nation's hopes rest is a lot different to life as a teen prodigy. "At 16 there's no fear whatsoever – you just play and enjoy it," Rooney said. "But the more games you play, more things come into it, what's going to happen if you win or lose. You think about the game a lot more."

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
News
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star