Rampant Rooney gives reasons for cheer and fear

WAYNE ROONEY’S unprecedented season, continued unabated as Manchester United returned to the top of the Premier League on Saturday night, presenting Alex Ferguson with welcome relief from off-field controversies and Fabio Capello with growing concerns.

The England forward scored four goals for the first time in his career, taking his season tally to 20 goals, just three short of his previous season’s best.

For Ferguson, his display and the result eased growing unrest among United supporters, disillusioned at the club’s ownership and the recent announcement that United currently possess a debt of well over £700 million (€796m).

The United manager used his pre-game programme notes to make an ill-advised call for those supporters to cease criticising the Glazer family and to unreservedly back his team, a call which failed considering the number of “We Want Glazers Out” chants that punctuated proceedings.

However, as long as United – ergo, Rooney – continue to play in such a fashion, Ferguson will be able to stifle the internal unrest and the increasingly embarrassing questions as to why he has failed to invest in the squad since the £80m (€94m) departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose absence was being keenly felt over the first half of the season.

The broader issue, for Capello and fans of the England football team, concerns the workload that Rooney will be required to carry over the final four months of the campaign, considering he is the only forward player showing consistency and playing up to his potential at the moment. Ferguson concedes he will have to rest his star asset soon – Rooney having played 33 games for club and country already this season – but admits it is hard to talk the 24-year-old into sitting out even a single game.

The sub-text, of course, is that in truth, Ferguson dare not go into a meaningful game without Rooney at the heart of his attack. All of which will leave Capello extremely anxious over the coming months. Will Rooney be exhausted by the time the World Cup starts in South Africa in six months?

“I’m sure that Sir Alex and Fabio Capello have different ideas for me for the rest of the season but I want to play and, whenever I’m asked, I will do so,” was Rooney’s solitary, less than enlightening, comment on the matter.

Ferguson was more forthcoming in analysing Rooney’s efforts, although his observations will have done little to allay fears that his forward could be heading for burn out in World Cup year.

“Wayne was the highlight and it is the first time a Manchester United player has scored four times since Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer at Nottingham some years ago (1999),” said the manager. “It is encouragement for Wayne, he will want to develop himself as a scorer and he has had some terrific finishes.

“I don’t think that comes into it at all – being the main man now that Ronaldo has gone – I think he was always the main man. His development since he has come to the club is testament to that. He is very seldom left out.”

Hull defender Anthony Gardner, one of the players charged with attempting – and failing – to mark Rooney had a first-hand view of the forward’s lethal and versatile repertoire. After only seven minutes, Rooney reacted lightning-quick after Boaz Myhill could only parry Paul Scholes’ long-range strike. After a couple of anxious moments – most notably a 75th minute shot from Kamel Ghilas that drifted just beyond the post – Rooney scored three more goals in the final eight minutes of the contest. His second goal was as superb strike from 15 yards after Rooney himself had kept the ball alive when Myhill saved a Nani free-kick; Rooney’s hat-trick was a well-taken header from Nani’s cross and the final goal saw him power into the area from Dimitar Berbatov’s touch and fire the ball home.

“He is very crucial to United’s title hopes,” said Gardner. “You look at him at the moment he is cutting through teams week in week out and he is the main source of goals and he is creating goals as well. He is the main man and for them to keep going on all fronts it is imperative he is fit and firing on all cylinders which he is.

“He has all the attributes you need. He has great feet, great awareness, pace, he is strong on the ball and scored with his head as well today.

“With the World Cup coming up and as an England fan I am just glad he is English and I just hope he does the business out there.”

Assuming Rooney is fit, of course.

REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent) 7: Unfussy, yet firm in his handling of the game, he kept his bookings to a minimum and ensured the game’s flow.

MATCH RATING: *** Credit Hull because, despite the scoreline, they played their part in quite an entertaining affair.

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