Wayne Rooney returns to Manchester United’s squad for Wigan Athletic’s visit to Old Trafford but will start on the bench after more than a month out injured. The striker, who spent a week at Nike’s HQ in Oregon, has trained with the first team squad this week and could feature as a second half substitute against Roberto Martinez’ outfit.
The home crowd’s reaction to Rooney’s inclusion is less certain still, with the striker yet to formally apologise to fans for his behaviour in the lead up to signing a new contract last month.
Rooney has not played for United since an ineffective substitute appearance against West Bromwich Albion in October. Subsequently the player blackmailed United into offering the most lucrative contract in the club’s history, from which the player has earned more than £1 million without playing.
While Rooney has not begun full training, he has completed remedial and fitness work and could be included by Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow before starting in a largely second-string side against Rangers next week.
“I don’t think he’ll start tomorrow,” Ferguson told the Key 103 radio.
“Maybe he will reach the bench. But he will certainly play on Wednesday against Rangers.
“He has been doing OK. He just needs to get back into the football training.
“The week in Oregon was intense. That in itself brings the fitness part, but the football part of training is another thing. With him being out with the ankle injury we needed to get him onto the intense training to get his fitness levels up.”
Ferguson may also be without Ryan Giggs, Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva, with United potential Premier League leaders at the weekend’s close. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand played an hour of England’s loss to France in midweek but has a sore hamstring and may not be risked. Smalling missed out on the international with a groin problem.
Long-term injured Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia definitely miss out but Paul Scholes returns after missing the draw with Villa through suspension.
In Rooney’s stead Ferguson is likely to retain Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández despite the pair’s disappointing showing against the Midlanders last weekend. Both players were replaced at Villa Park, with Berbatov having not scored in 10 matches.
Federico Macheda’s fine strike last weekend will only earn the Italian a place on the bench. The teenager also scored twice for Italy under-21s in midweek.
However, Bébé could miss out altogether having played 75 minutes of United’s second string fixture on Thursday night. The Portuguese scored two outstanding goals the reserves’ 3-1 victory to offer fans a glimpse of the talent that persuaded Ferguson to part with £8 million for his services.
Despite Rooney’s return many supporters remain angry over the player’s recent behaviour. Rooney’s assertion that United lacked the “ambition” to retain his services offended fellow players and the striker’s apparently willingness to join Manchester City still rankles with fans. That the 25-year-old striker has thus far refused to apologise has not gone unnoticed either.
However, Ferguson has attempted to cool tempers, laying the blame at agent Paul Stretford’s door.
“The boy rushed in,” the Scot said this week.
“The minute the response of the public and supporters and press had a say, he changed his mind immediately because he knew he made a mistake.
“He immediately apologised and agreed on a new contract in a couple of hours.
“We want to get Wayne to his best. When that happens, everything will be OK.”
Whether Rooney plays or not, Wigan is unlikely to threaten United’s unbeaten record this season despite the Reds’ inconsistent form. The Latics have never beaten United – home or away – with the Reds winning all 11 previous meetings between the two sides, including 10 Premier League matches and the 2006 League Cup final.
Meanwhile, Martinez will be without defender Gary Caldwell, who has thigh problem, while on-loan midfielder Tom Cleverley is ineligible to face his parent club.
Cleverley will return to Old Trafford in January having suffered a frustrating spell at Wigan. Injuries have disrupted the 21-year-old’s progress this season but Martinez praised the midfielder’s recent performance against Liverpool.
After United’s disappointing midfield displays this season, the Reds could use Cleverley’s creativity.
Wigan – 451 – Al Habsi; Figueroa, Stam, S Caldwell, Alcaraz; Diame, Thomas, N’Zogbia, Gomez, Moses; Rodallega. Subs from: Kirkland, Watson, Boselli, Figueroa, Di Santo, Moses, Gohouri, McArthur.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Scholes, Obertan, Bébé, Anderson, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Rooney, Hernández, Macheda.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant referees: Peter Kirkup & Mike Mullarkey
Fourth official: Mike Jones
United – DWWWDD
Wigan – DWLLDW