By David Lynch
Wayne Rooney is perhaps not used to grabbing the headlines over an hour before a game commences, but that is exactly what occurred ahead of Manchester United's 3-2 victory over Fulham on Saturday.
The forward's omission from Sir Alex Ferguson's starting line-up provided the first shock of an entertaining encounter at Old Trafford, as the Cottagers came remarkably close to leaving Manchester with a point.
The earliest indication that the day would be an uncomfortable one for the Red Devils came as Damien Duff steered home from a well-worked free kick after just two minutes; oh, to hear Rooney's thoughts at that point.
Any argument that the striker might have been formulating on the bench, however, was soon washed away by a return to the agreed order of things at Old Trafford.
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Those performances may have proved irrelevant; neither man has the goalscoring record or gravitas with the club's fans to expect to keep Rooney out of the side but the 26-year-old's day got a lot worse as he appeared for a brief outing as a substitute.
An accidental clash with Fulham's Hugo Rodallega left a vicious gash in his leg, one which forced his immediate withdrawal and is set to keep him out for up to four weeks. This is a blow that Rooney did not need and one that provides an even bigger challenge following the statement made by Sir Alex in excluding him from the starting line-up.
The Scot recently admitted that Van Persie's arrival was an unexpected bonus of this transfer window, raising many questions over how the Dutchman could fit into the side alongside Kagawa and Rooney. At no point was it queried whether or not the 70-year-old boss might even want to do so – until now.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Govan-born manager – a man well known for his ability to hold a grudge – still bears the scars of the 2010 dispute which led to Rooney's current lucrative contract.
The former Everton youth product effectively touted his services to the Red Devils' bitter rivals, Manchester City, under the pretence that he had concerns over United's ability to compete. That those fears were assuaged by a considerable pay hike that would raise the eyebrow of any cynic, particularly a boss who values loyalty above all else.
Rooney's four-week break is set to provide a glimpse of what life would be like for United without the Croxteth-born striker and, judging by the reaction of fans thus far, it could be argued that little will change. Clearly, only results on the pitch can settle such a discussion, but in picking Van Persie and Kagawa against Fulham and winning, Ferguson has made the England man's absence seem more palatable.
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Paul Ince once formed a vital part of a title-winning United midfield, but his ego and inability to work on the Scot's terms saw him moved on to Inter and subsequently fail to lift a trophy – the First Division play-offs aside – for the rest of his career.
Years later, David Beckham's long-running spat with Sir Alex, again borne of perceived attitude problems, facilitated a move to Real Madrid where he failed to lift a league title until the last of his four seasons in Spain - and only then as a bit-part player.
So, if Rooney wishes to avoid such a fate, then he is the master of his own destiny upon his comeback. He must heed these cautionary tales.
The Englishman remains one of the finest talents in the Premier League and has Bobby Charlton's all-time scoring record for the club well within his sights, however, question marks over his fitness and willingness to fight must be eradicated.
Alternatively, Sir Alex, a man who rarely makes a wrong decision, will control his future. And he will give no thought to Rooney's feelings when that time comes.
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