Cluib Focus – Manchester United – Mixed reception for returning Rooney

Wayne Rooney made his much anticipated return to the Manchester United fold yesterday, coming on as a 56th minute substitute against Wigan.

It was Rooney’s first appearance for the Reds since his much publicised contract episode, which saw the striker hand in a transfer request, question the clubs ambition, and then retract both once a lucrative new deal was granted by the United hierarchy.

The England striker came in for fierce criticism from the United support with a diatribe of anti-scouse songs ringing out from the Stretford End choir in the immediate aftermath of Rooney’s request to leave Old Trafford. That vehemence has tapered with Rooney committing his future to the club and being sidelined with an ankle injury which has seen him miss the last eight games. However, when last season’s Footballer of the Year entered the fray alongside Paul Scholes, there was a mixed reaction from another capacity crowd, whom then opted to hail the arrival of Scholes in a noticeable slant on the returning Rooney.

His 34 minute cameo was fairly undistinguished against a Latics side reduced to nine men shortly after the double substitution; and barring a header which looped over the bar and a shot easily gathered by Ali Al-Habsi – Rooney generally eased himself back into the swing of things with the minimum of fuss.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already confirmed Rooney will start the midweek Champions League game against Rangers in an attempt to regain form and fitness to kick start a season which has not got going after the highs of his 34 goals last campaign.

A solitary penalty against West Ham is the sum total of Rooney’s goalscoring efforts so far, with the 25-year-old looking a pale imitation of his rampaging best which terrorised the Premier League as little as six months back. The dip has been beset against contractual wranglings, personal problems and ongoing injury concerns which have limited his appearances and effectiveness so far.

With those issues largely shelved Ferguson will hope to manipulate his talisman back to the peak of his game, and although United now find themselves joint top of the table, they have done so independently of Rooney, or through being anywhere near their best.

Once again during large parts of the ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory over Wigan, United were way short of any sort of fluency or urgency and were indeed lucky to go into the interval one goal up. Wigan were the more impressive of the two sides during the first 45 minutes – dispelling any home threat with ease and breaking dangerously to create the better of the chances. Patrice Evra’s header on the stroke of the break and the quickfire sending’s off of Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega rendered Wigan’s early promise redundant as a Javier Hernandez header put the lid on matters.

A goal for the returning Rooney didn’t come but evidently won’t be far off. The frosty reception offered to their number ten was a timely reminder that the Old Trafford faithful didn’t take too kindly to Rooney’s conduct, although to a man you can be sure they’re glad they had the opportunity to direct frustrations with him still in a Red Devils jersey.

As demonstrated during the contract saga, the relationship between Rooney and United is reciprocal. He needs them, they need him. Rooney’s return to action came on the weekend that the Reds achieved parity with Chelsea at the summit of the league, and with Rooney restored to full working order and with a clear mind and conscience, now is the time for him to start repaying some of the faith and fortune granted by the club.

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