By Wayne Veysey at Old Trafford
What a strange match.
On a night that put the ‘stale’ into stalemate, neither side were willing to sacrifice one point to win three.
And, even more bizarrely, Wayne Rooney, who has not always been an Old Trafford favourite over the last few years, was welcomed back like a prodigal son.
In a very impressive first start of the season, he found his name being frequently chanted by both sets of supporters.
A tepid opening period was livened up by Manchester United fans chanting ‘Rooney, Rooney’ and the the Chelsea’s hardcore responding by chanting the striker’s name and adding, ‘We’ll see you next week’.
There was so much love for the 27-year-old in the stadium that it felt like a floating heart should land on the centre circle and whisk him off to wherever he wished.
“Probably now he decides he wants to stay,” opined a deadpan Jose Mourinho afterwards in reference to Chelsea’s summer-long pursuit of Rooney. “This must be a very special club because in every [other] club in the world, when a player wants to leave they don’t support him.”
The player himself has not uttered a single word about where he wants to be playing his football beyond September 2 but, privately, he has made it clear he is aching for a new challenge and a change of environment. If he wanted to stay, he has certainly had plenty of time and opportunity to say so in public.
Rooney’s body language on his full return appeared fairly ambivalent. Yes, he was eager, looked sharp and his all-round performance stood out in a sea of mediocrity.
But his face remained stonily impassive and revealed barely a flicker of emotion throughout the match. It was almost like he was playing on auto-pilot.
There were no goals for him to celebrate or curse, or, indeed, virtually ignore, as he did during a cameo substitute role against Swansea City eight days previously. The public merely saw a fine striker whose future has dominated the football news agenda all summer put in a fine display, although it would be over-egging it to claim he ran the show.
The fact that Mourinho went to Old Trafford without a recognised centre-forward in his starting X1, despite having three available, could be interpreted by Rooney as an advert for the No.9 role at Stamford Bridge.
Most managers would have been slaughtered for being so negative but Mourinho is not most managers.
The Portugese’s post-match comments could be taken as him admitting defeat in a pursuit of Rooney that has already included two formal bids for the player.
Samuel Eto’o has already been lined up as a mighty handy Plan B should United maintain their stance of refusing to sell a key player to a title rival.
But it would be a surprise if there was not one more twist in this saga over the next week."It is now up to Rooney to finish this story one way or another," added Mourinho.
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