Wayne Rooney will show that he is every inch the modern father by telling Sir Alex Ferguson he would rather sit-out Manchester United's trip to Russia to play CSKA Moscow in the Champions League later this month than miss the birth of his first child.
Rooney's wife Coleen is due to give birth on 24 October, two days after United return from Moscow and the day before they play Liverpool at Anfield – a fixture that is always treated with great anticipation by the United striker. After the 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on Wednesday, Rooney said that, should his child arrive early, he would have to miss the game against CSKA.
"Of course I want to be there for the birth of my child and if anything happens around that time then I am sure I will stay back [in England]," Rooney said. "But if everything is going to plan then I will be there playing for United because that's my job and that's what I am paid to do.
"She [Coleen] is due just after it [the game]. Of course it's a long way [to Moscow] but I have a job to go and play for United and unless anything changes [with the schedule of the birth] I will be there."
Should Rooney junior arrive early, the child's father will be one of many high-profile footballers who have had to make the call on whether to miss a match in order to do what most fathers now regard as part of their duty. United's relatively smooth progress should mean that the game is not critical to their chances of qualifying for the knock-out round but with Michael Owen injured they may yet be short on strikers.
That Rooney is determined to be at his wife's side is something of a family tradition. According to his autobiography, when he was born in 1985 at Fazakerley hospital in Liverpool, on 25 October, his father Wayne senior, a former amateur boxer, was present and declared it "a great experience". Rooney was very nearly named "Adrian", after the Everton striker Adrian Heath.
Ferguson and Fabio Capello have both spoken about the calming effect of marriage on the infamous Rooney temperament. Ferguson has always prescribed marriage to his players, regarding it as a useful curb on the dangerous excesses to which young footballers are prone.
Ferguson was present at the birth of his two younger sons, the twins Jason and Darren in February 1972, although only briefly because he fainted. He recalled in his autobiography that, as he was escorted by a nurse from theatre, he asked his wife Cathy whether she would be okay on her own. Her reply, Ferguson later wrote was: "'Yes – but will you?'"
United's win over Wolfsburg – their eighth straight victory – was, Rooney said, all the evidence required that they were as solid as ever. Certainly United are not as settled as they have been in the past, as demonstrated by Ferguson's recent decision to alternate the first-choice goalkeeper's role between Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster in the absence of Edwin van der Sar.
"I feel we have had unfair criticism at the start of the season," Rooney said. "We weren't playing as well as we could but we have won every game since [the defeat on 19 August by] Burnley and yet this week we still get criticised. That's always going to happen at a club like this. We have bounced back well and are top of the league. We want to carry that on."
The criticism is not levelled against the stalwarts such as Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher, rather the new or younger players who have failed to make a major impression. Antonio Valencia was average at best against Wolfsburg. Owen, his goal against Manchester City aside, has remained a peripheral figure and will now be aiming for the game at Anfield as a potential return. Anderson had one of his best games on Wednesday but has started the season slowly.
Plugging the hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo was always likely to be a tall order and his seamless transition to Real Madrid has only gone to highlight his value. "It's no surprise," Rooney said. "He has scored two again [against Marseilles] and I am not surprised. He is rightfully called the best player in the world and I am sure he will continue to do well.
"We are playing different football now. Last season the team was based a lot around Cristiano and this year players are chipping in with goals."
United face Sunderland tomorrow with Rooney and Berbatov now the default strike partnership for the next three weeks at least. Rooney defended Berbatov against what he said was "unfair criticism". "Sometimes his body language makes it look like he isn't working hard but he is. He is a fantastic player and he showed some great touches [against Wolfsburg] and is doing great things for us."
Go on, my son! Hot shots with the hot towels
* Wayne Rooney joins a number of footballers forced to choose between attending their child's birth and a match.
* The wife of Everton's Richard Wright had her baby induced so he could play Liverpool in 2002.
* Petr Cech spent the night on the phone in January 2008 after his wife gave birth in the Czech Republic. He played for Chelsea against Everton the next night.
* Australia's Lucas Neill missed a match with Qatar last June after his wife gave birth to twins.
* Bournemouth's James Hayter missed a defeat to Brighton in February 2004 as his girlfriend gave birth, then returned against Wrexham to score the Football League's fastest ever hat-trick.
* Former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was dropped after deliberating about flying out late for a match at Internazionale in March 2008.
Results so far: 15 Sep Besiktas 0 Man United 1, Wolfsburg 3 CSKA Moscow 1; 30 Sep CSKA Moscow 2 Besiktas 1, Man United 2 Wolfsburg 1.
Manchester United's remaining games: 21 Oct CSKA Moscow (a), 3 Nov CSKA Moscow (h), 25 Nov Besiktas (h), 8 Dec Wolfsburg (a).
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