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â€¢ Wayne Rooney can reach 40 goals in season, says manager
â€¢ Striker showing greater maturity for Manchester United
At first glance it may seem absurd that Wayne Rooney is considered a calming influence as Manchester United enter the critical phase of their title defence. In a little over two months he is due to travel with an England squad whose chances of winning Euro 2012, never strong, were hamstrung by the kick Rooney aimed at Macedonia’s Miodrag Dzudovic that has left him suspended for the opening two group games. England’s last two tournaments, in Germany and South Africa, were notable for questions over Rooney’s temper and form that seemed to disappear when wearing the red of Manchester United.
It is 10 months since Rooney was last shown a yellow card in the Premier League and three years since he was last dismissed, in a 2-0 defeat at Fulham. His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, thought that, in the face of Robin van Persie’s astonishing displays for Arsenal, Rooney might not win the Footballer of the Year award. However, he is still on course to mark the season with the Premier League title and 40 goals.
“You always see a maturity about players when they reach their mid-20s,” says Ferguson â€“ Rooney is 26. “Along with their ability comes the thought patterns and timing. They are more in control of themselves in terms of what they are capable of doing.”
Rooney’s timing and form appear at their peak. His goals have always come in waves â€“ between 18 September and a 4-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on 10 December, he did not find the net at all in the league. In Manchester United’s last nine matches in all competitions he has scored 11 times. Included among these were five goals in the matches against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham that turned the title race United’s way and another that decided what even Ferguson admitted was a nervous 1-0 win over Fulham on Monday night.
“He could get to 40 goals,” says Ferguson (Rooney has 31 for Manchester United and England). “He has eight matches left, he can average a goal a game; you’d take that, wouldn’t you? We would reasonably expect eight more goals. Would he get footballer of the year? Well, you have to say that Van Persie has had an exceptional season.”
Nevertheless, as he nears what would be a 13th Premier League title, and the immediate challenge is Monday night’s game at Blackburn Rovers, Ferguson argues that United’s greatest advantage is that, in horse-racing terms, they have done course and distance. He says he has endured and coped with his own disappointments, not least in 1992 when United’s challenge collapsed in the space of a week in which they played four games. “You get nerves. You are in a football job and it’s your life and there is anxiety but not to the point that you get desperate,” he says.
“We lost the league in 1992 with four games in six days and to see your lead evaporate like that â€“ it felt like it had disappeared within seconds.
“There could be a shock around the corner now, you never know. We have done well in terms of getting into the position we are and now it is a case of playing our game and keeping our nerve. That is why I was so concerned in the last 15 minutes of the Fulham game when we kept giving the ball away.
“We won the league with 75 points one year â€“ 1997 â€“ and the year we won the treble we did it with 78. I still cannot believe that. Earlier in the season I thought 82 would do it but that won’t happen now, will it? That calculation has been stood on its head.”