Belfast Telegraph

In-form Rooney determined to earn Manchester United fans' forgiveness

By Ian Herbert

It doesn't come easy to Wayne Rooney, all this self-analysis. There is a nervous little laugh when it is put to him, as he makes to leave Schalke's ground late on Tuesday night, that he is now repaying Manchester United's fans for so nearly betraying them.

The same embarrassment is there in his voice when it is suggested that the second half of this season is turning out rather better than the first.

And the written word simply can't convey how obvious it is that Rooney was not made to stand in the depths of a stadium, a carton of coffee in his hand, and say: “I'm a lot happier in my life. It's almost been like having to settle down again.”

Such are the conversations which have become a part of his life in the past six months, though.

Rooney has been on a long, unfinished road in search of redemption from United's fans ever since the October night when he declared, through a press statement issued two hours and 10 minutes before United's Champions League tie with Bursaspor, that he doubted the club's viability and might leave.

“Coleen forgave you Wayne, we won't,” read one of the banners raised that evening. “Who's the whore now, Wayne?” was another.

Rooney seems to be grasping for any new way to apologise now. His rhetorical question in the depths of the Veltins Arena — “you know, when you look at it nowhow wrong was I!” — was so untypically him that you half imagined he had been practicing it in front of the mirror.

This has only been a part of the journey back, though. The past six months have also purposefully taken us into Wayne's world, a process in which his arrival on Twitter last Saturday is just another contributory part.

The creation of @wazzaroon08 is actually not as orchestrated as it might seem. Rooney's agent Paul Stretford is understood to have doubted the wisdom of his client delivering his random impressions, not unreasonably believing that this could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Rooney's wife, Coleen, and Rio Ferdinand are the ones who have encouraged him. But it is another way of demonstrating where Rooney's soul lies — and that he has one.

The effect has been so good because it has seemed so uncalculating. Rooney's tweets are so homespun that you knew it could only have been him, speaking from his room at

Essen's Atlantic Congress hotel on Monday evening, telling us that he is listening to the Beatles. The picture has been building in other ways.

The 25-year-old's interview with United's in-house TV station on New Year's Eve was an extraordinarily detailed insight into his religiosity, pre-match prayers in the physio's room and the iPod he wears in the dressing room because Patrice Evra's taste for R&B and reggae differs from his own (Susan Boyle, with a love of Perry Como and Frankie Valli passed on by his grandfather). Gradually, the indignant individual who initially dismissed some of the reporting of his transfer talks as “a load of rubbish” has gravitated into the most absorbing source of mixed zone conversation.

The first apology came a month after Ferguson had promised it. “Everyone keeps saying that I haven't said sorry and, if that is the case, then I apologise for my side of things,” Rooney said, still mildly chippy. By March 15, the tone was far warmer.

“Unless I'm ever not wanted then I'll be staying here, that's for sure.”

In Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night, he seemed to want to move on beyond this issue and there was evidence to suggest that his manager has done as much.

None of this would have occurred, of course, had Rooney not been restored to his old powers.

The season had brought him just two goals by New Year's Day but there have been 12 goals in 20 starts since.

No performance has bettered the FA Cup quarter-final defeat of Arsenal on March 12, while the goal against Manchester City at Old Trafford and the Upton Park hat-trick which was obscured by his scream into a camera had reaffirmed his status as United's most influential player at home and abroad.

The FA Cup semi-final with City, 12 days ago, might also have taken a different course if Rooney had not be trapped in a shirt and tie, shaking his head from the bench.

To see Rooney on the flight out to Gelsenkirchen on Monday — nestled comfortably between the frames of Jonny Evans and John O'Shea — was to imagine that 2010 never existed and though the road to redemption has not been entirely smooth — there was the elbow at Wigan as well as the abuse at West Ham — Ferguson knows that events like that will be always be a part of the Rooney narrative.

Now, the manager can only wait now to see if he can deliver a level of performance in a Champions League final which eluded him against Barcelona in Rome, two years ago. There is a significant difference.

While he and Cristiano Ronaldo were two brilliant individuals and Rooney generally the one in the shade, Rooney and Javier Hernandez are a pair.

If Rome 2009 was billed as the Ronaldo v Messi final, there is no reason why Wembley 2011 will not be Rooney v Messi, or indeed Rooney v Ronaldo.

Rooney certainly shook off the embarrassment on Tuesday night when enthusing on his new role behind Hernandez.

“It was where I played a lot when I was younger and I'm enjoying it. You can get on the ball and create and score goals. As a footballer you enjoy that ...”

It was a mixed zone many moons removed from the one on that grim night against Bursaspor, when Evans and Nemanja Vidic looked shocked to the core by Rooney's ‘I want out’ statement as they trudged towards the stadium exit.

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