After the exercise in tabloid-evasion that saw him carted around the world for the majority of the last month or so, Manchester United’s wayward striker Wayne Rooney returned to the first-team fold last weekend – entering the Old Trafford fray as a second-half substitute during their 2-0 Premier League victory over Wigan on Saturday afternoon.
Rooney’s emergence on the touchline prompted an uneasy alchemy of both welcoming cheers and derisory jeers from the United support, but the general consensus is that the return of the prodigal son just about ran out as ‘positive’ – with the audible dissent eventually being shrouded by vocal backing for the 24-year-old chancer that successfully forced the entire club’s collective hand into making him their highest-paid player on record.
Speaking in an interview with United’s in-house television station MUTV, Rooney admitted that he was anxious about the reaction that he would receive from the United fans following his highly-publicised dispute with the club:
“With the issues over the last couple of months, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried by the reaction of the fans, but overall, the reception was brilliant.
The players have been fine. I’ve had no problem with them whatsoever throughout the negotiating of my contract or before or after.”
Rooney is now tentatively scheduled to return to United’s starting line-up for their Champions League tie with auld enemies Rangers tonight, his first full appearance for the club since his opprobrious agent Paul Stretford advocated the now-infamously ill-measured contract volte-face back in late October.
After United sent him on a fortnight-long jaunt to Nike HQ in Oregon for some intense ‘re-conditioning’ away from the glare of the gutter press, Rooney thinks he is now ready to start pulling his weight again:
“My fitness is coming back. I went away for a week to the States to work on my fitness. It was intense, leaving at nine and getting back at six o’clock, but it’s what I needed.”
I’m sure I can think of a few other things that United fans will think that Rooney ‘needed’ after dragging the club through the mire, although most involve some kind of extreme physical discourtesy.
The conspiracy theorists amongst football’s amateur Illuminati seemed certain that Rooney’s new five-year, £250,000-a-week contract was merely a smokescreen put in place to disguise United’s need for their prize-asset to retain his market value, at least until he could be sold on to the highest bidder come the end of the season.
However, Rooney was quick in quashing those particular rumours:
“I can understand the fans frustration with the contract negotiations. It happened in the public eye which made it a little bit more difficult, but the main thing for myself and the club was that we managed to agreed that deal.
I’ve heard that I’ve have agreed a new deal so the club can agree a high price with a different team. That’s a load of rubbish. I’ve signed a deal to stay here and my long-term future is here at Man United. “
The striker went on to confirm that he never envisaged leaving United and that reports over his unhappiness at the club began to snowball out of control once he openly admitted his concerns over the apparent lack of investment in the squad:
“I’ve always made it aware I wanted to be at this club. Obviously I had my concerns and voiced my opinion and it went crazy from there really.”
And finally, Rooney also insisted that he now sees his long-term future lying at Old Trafford:
“My long-term future is at Man Utd. I want to help the younger players the way [Ryan] Giggs, [Gary] Neville and [Paul] Scholes have helped me. I want to be here to help them and make this club continue to be successful. That’s my main aim.”
Rebuttals aside, there was no apology forthcoming from Rooney, which was perhaps surprising given the stage and the anticipation.
Indeed United patriarch Sir Alex Ferguson even went as far as promising, at the very least, a mitigation from the player that had ‘hurt’ everybody associated with the club by airing his personal grievances so overtly last month.
When pressed on the subject during his pre-game media conference at Ibrox yesterday evening, Ferguson answered with a tart ‘I’ve no idea’, before duly moving the questioning along swiftly.
That said, Rooney will be presented with yet another chance to make partial amends in a pre-recorded interview that will be shown on ITV during the build-up to tonight’s game – but don’t hold your breath.