Belfast Telegraph

Wayne Rooney is weighed down by Manchester United captain's armband

Wayne's red mist returns but Ballyclare starlet Paddy McNair helps United survive storm

By Michael Calvin

What strange alchemy is at work when sane, sensible men continue to excuse Wayne Rooney from responsibility for his folly?

Roy Hodgson might have shifted uneasily in his seat in the Old Trafford directors' box when Rooney was sent off for the sixth time in a turbulent career, an hour into a fortunate 2-1 win over West Ham, but he will continue to rely on his supposedly emblematic England captain.

Ed Woodward, Manchester United's executive vice-chairman, and his global team of uber-salesmen will continue to consider Rooney's £300,000 weekly wage fair recompense for his ability to shift replica shirts in Asia and other emerging markets.

Even Louis van Gaal, whose management style at United is proving to be an intriguing combination of pragmatism, intelligence, rigour and haughtiness, is prepared to place inordinate faith in the personal and professional qualities of his captain.

Rooney is likely to miss forthcoming matches against Everton, West Bromwich and Chelsea. His crude hack at Stewart Downing, which connected above the knee as he sprinted away from him midway in the West Ham half, was the instinctive act of a player who realises the pace of his youth is fading.

Van Gaal, in his immediate post-match briefing, refused to countenance debate about whether Rooney has the requisite temperament for leadership.

He then reinforced his belief in him during a more measured analysis of a player he has elevated to the point of infallibility.

Rooney was, to be fair, the game's most vibrant force while he remained on the pitch.

He relished the freedom to operate behind the front two, and gave United a fifth-minute lead with a scooped volley, his 176th Premier League goal.

Van Gaal acknowledged: "Wayne will be a big miss, especially as I'm thinking about how he is playing at a good standard in his new role. He likes to play there, and is a very important person, my captain. He is an example for the squad.

"When you are my captain you have to play always. I have to be sure of that."

The issue is whether he is correct to be so confident.

Though Rooney has calmed down – his most recent dismissal in the Premier League was against Fulham in March 2009 – Saturday's sending-off had echoes of the petulance and recklessness which led to his dismissal for England in Montenegro in 2011.

He seems occasionally overwrought with the responsibilities of captaincy, and visibly channels the frustrations of a transitional team which remains as neurotic at the back as it is dynamic going forward.

Set pieces continue to trigger mass panic, though Ballyclare teenage Paddy McNair, the sixth Academy product given his debut by Van Gaal in his short spell at the club, acquitted himself excellently.

The United manager confirmed Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans will miss Sunday's home game against Everton.

Sam Allardyce's frustration was rooted in the self-inflicted handicap of falling two goals behind to Robin van Persie's 50th goal for United.

West Ham exploited United's inability to defend corners with Diafra Sakho's fourth goal in as many games, but their anger at an offside call which prevented a late Kevin Nolan equaliser was misplaced.

Allardyce admitted a big chance had been wasted.

"You can have a go at United because of their defence," he said. "It is where the weaknesses are to be found. It was probably better for them to play with 10 men, because they covered their weaknesses up.

"Wayne's red card was crazy. It was irresponsible. We all know lads trip up players. Normally there's a little tap, a yellow card, but he gave him [Downing] a good boot. It was reckless, dangerous."

The controversy was hardly the backcloth United wanted, needed or expected to the 10th anniversary celebrations of Rooney's move to Old Trafford from Everton. The applause which greeted him as he walked prematurely to the dressing room was an utterly illogical signal of his popularity.

He will always be one red mist away from a red card, no matter how hard his hagiographers try to convince us otherwise.

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