A mere 48 hours after Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben posted the thought that niggles away at some Manchester United fans about their team — “Rooney seems to be their only solution, what about if he doesn’t function?”
Sir Alex Ferguson must have found himself wondering around his side’s team German hotel nursing that self same thought yesterday morning.
It is not the 34-goal striker's ‘non-functioning’ which he has to fret about, but his non-appearance for the course of a desperately challenging period of football during which the only ‘straightforward’ match for the Premier League champions is a visit to Blackburn Rovers — the side who have not been beaten at home since Tottenham left with the points back on December 19.
It was a sobering day for Ferguson and one in which those United fans wondered whether the pundits on the MUTV channel, who claimed in Monday’s analysis of the 4-0 minus Rooney at Bolton that the side could comfortably exist without him, really knew what they were on about.
The punditry was based on the performance of Dimitar Berbatov, who scored twice in that match and generally added to the impression that he has reached his best period of form for Ferguson. His contribution in the 3-0 win over Fulham was his best game of the season.
Berbatov certainly has the incentive. Nearly 11 months have elapsed since he received the most devastating news of his United career — that he would start the Champions League final against Barcelona on the bench — and though he did appear just after the hour in Rome, his agent Emil Dantchev confided the following grey morning how desperate it had been for Berbatov to see the team sheet and how it was his goal to make a place in this season's final, in the Bernabeu on May 22, his own. He certainly will not be short of responsibilities now.
United expect Rooney back before any European Cup final but it is on his 6ft 1in frame that United’s destiny now rests, with Michael Owen having confirmed 11 days ago that he will not kick another ball this season.
Danny Welbeck returned from his loan spell at Preston with a knee injury which will keep him out for the season, leaving Federico Macheda and Senegalese Mame Biram Diouf who arrived from Norwegian club Molde in January. Ferguson is certainly going to need goals from Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and perhaps Ji-Sung Park. He can also store faith in a vital statistic: United have won eight out of nine games without Rooney this season.