Rooney free to give Chelsea elbow
Wayne Rooney has been cleared to face Chelsea tonight - now he is hoping Sir Alex Ferguson wants him to.
As anticipated, football's complex disciplinary rules have allowed Rooney to escape further sanction for elbowing Wigan's James McCarthy at the DW Stadium on Saturday.
Once referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a free-kick for the incident, it was always going to be long odds against additional sanctions being applied.
As world governing body Fifa remain implacably opposed to the use of video technology they frown severely on matches being re-refereed, no matter how obvious the mistake.
Consequently, once the FA had contacted Clattenburg to establish the free-kick he awarded was for a clash he felt Rooney instigated, there was little option other than to declare the case closed — as unsatisfactory as that may seem.
It was a situation United quickly became aware of, with assistant boss Mike Phelan noting immediately after Saturday's game that the referee had made his decision, which Clattenburg's bosses have insisted was the right one.
“Mark took the correct course of action with this incident,” said Professional Game Match Officials general manager Mike Riley.
“Match officials are trained to prioritise following the ball, as that is where the greater majority of incidents are going to take place. However, we also do a lot of work around the area of peripheral vision to be aware of anything that might potentially happen off-the-ball.
“In this incident Mark was following play, but caught sight of two players coming together and he awarded a free-kick because he believed one player had impeded the other.
“We should be clear that Mark did nothing wrong in officiating this incident as he acted on what he saw on the pitch.”
However, the incident is bound to bring further calls for Fifa to change their stance.
In both codes of rugby for instance, Rooney would almost certainly have been cited given the severity of what occurred.
However, in the higher echelons of Fifa at least, there is absolutely no appetite for such interference, with current trials limited solely to instances of the ball crossing the line.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has reacted with commendable restraint, knowing Rooney could well end the Blues' minor remaining title hopes at Stamford Bridge tonight.
“I think so,” said the Italian when asked whether it was fair that Rooney escaped.
“If this is the rules and the FA decide this, I am happy to play against Rooney.”
The question is, will Ferguson actually select the 25-year-old in a game where victory would open up an 18-point gap on the champions and more importantly, increase to seven United's lead over an Arsenal side now licking their wounds after a shock Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham.
After all, whilst Rooney took his seasonal tally to seven on Saturday, Javier Hernandez responded to being offered a starting berth by scoring twice to take his total to 13.
Dimitar Berbatov was on the bench despite bagging 20 this term, so whilst it would still be a major surprise if Rooney, whose temperament is now under fresh scrutiny, was axed, Ferguson certainly has options in attack, even if his squad is still badly affected by injury.
Chelsea skipper John Terry has already set the scene for tonight's encounter by claiming United could be adversely affected by nerves as the campaign reaches its conclusion.
However, United's John O'Shea said: “He's got to say that, hasn't he? Obviously John Terry has to keep the season alive — and we still have to play them twice.
“We have the experience, but we have to show it on the pitch, it's pure and simple.”
If there is anywhere United might be somewhat tentative, it is Stamford Bridge. Nine seasons have passed since they recorded a win at Chelsea and last term they were particularly aggrieved to lose, believing Wes Brown was fouled by Didier Drogba in the build-up to Terry's winner.
Little wonder O'Shea is not interested in how United play tonight, just the result they achieve.
“It is definitely a case that the result is everything, especially when it comes to big weeks like this,” he said.
“Not many people are going to remember how well we played if we win.
“We are on top of the league at the minute and hopefully we can keep the cushion ahead of other teams.
“That obviously means not losing games and going to places like Stamford Bridge and getting results.
“We haven't had the most favourable of results down there recently, but we are looking forward to the challenge of trying to put that right.”
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