Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Wayne Rooney hungry to silence doubters

Making plans: Wayne Rooney relaxes at the Vale Do Lobo Resort during the week

If Wayne Rooney had to predict where the first jab of criticism would come from in the build-up to the World Cup finals, the chances are he would have placed his money on it being Sir Alex Ferguson or Roy Keane.

But then he probably did not know that Paul Scholes had signed up to write the first sponsored column of what has been, until now, a reluctant media career.

Scholes' analysis of Rooney's career yesterday, that he might have peaked already two years ago and that he might be better playing in midfield as he gets older, will not have escaped the squad's attention during their downtime at Vale Do Lobo, the squad's Portugal training base.

It cannot be ignored, simply because the credentials of the man advancing the argument are too strong.

That goes too for Rooney, who has long mastered the indifferent shrug of the super-famous when they are confronted with criticism.

When it was put to him this week that Ferguson had said in his autobiography that Rooney was slow to regain his match sharpness – "four to five games" was the former United manager's assessment – the striker waved it away as being the case for most players.

Ferguson was talking about you specifically, came the reply. "Well, I'm sure he would," shot back Rooney, with the intensity and sharpness that, sadly, he often restrains when he fulfils press duties.

The big question, as ever, is how it will be for Rooney in Brazil.

Two World Cup finals into his career, with not even a goal to show for it yet, he as good as admitted that this was the last chance to do something special.

"At the World Cup in 2018, I will be older and it will be difficult to make an impact on that one," he said.

He has not played since April 26, hence the decision to come to Portugal early with two fitness coaches in tow.

Rooney ran through the fitness regime he pursued last week while many of his team-mates were on holiday.

It was a demanding programme of mornings spent in the gym working on his upper body and legs, and then a further hour and a half out on the field doing high-intensity running.

As ever with Rooney, you feel that his form is in the laps of the gods, but at least he is doing his best.

"I've felt that in all the [previous] tournaments, they haven't gone so great for me but I'm hoping this one will," he added.

"I feel fresh, I feel fit, I feel ready so really in this tournament there will be no excuses from me if it doesn't.

"I'm hoping it might be like when I was at Everton and we hadn't done very well [in 2003-04] and then I went to a tournament and kicked on from that," he said. "I was enjoying games.

"This season at United has been stop-start, so I'm hoping that, with England, I can come into this team and we can start off by doing well in the friendly games, take that into the World Cup and get that enjoyment of winning games back."

Later he reflected on the groin injury that ended his season and suggested that it might be a benefit for his England career.

"I've played a lot of games and just having that little break before the end of the season might have helped me," he said.

"I wanted to make sure I was ready to train when we met up.

"We've still got three weeks and three friendly games before the start of the World Cup, so I'm really confident I'll be in the best shape I can be for when the World Cup starts."

Finally, he was asked about the Louis van Gaal effect and the possibility of being United's new captain next season.

Robin van Persie, with his relationship to Van Gaal, looks the most likely.

"I've said before that I've captained United a few times and to get it on a full-time basis would be great," Rooney said.

"With the new manager, it's his decision. Whoever he chooses to be captain, I'll respect that and have no problems with it."

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