Wayne Rooney has risked the wrath of Sir Alex Ferguson by contradicting the Manchester United manager's claim that the striker has been injured for the games he has missed against Valencia and Sunderland and said that it is not true he has a problem with his ankle.
The United striker made the remarks after the Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro when he was asked about his fitness — one of the rare occasions he has spoken in public since the much-discussed allegations about his private life.
The bluntness of Rooney's dismissal of Ferguson's claims are potentially divisive, coming from the club's star player.
Asked whether his ankle had caused him any problems in the goalless draw with Montenegro, Rooney said: “I've had no problems with my ankle all season.”
All season? “No.”
So why did Sir Alex say you did? “Don't know”.
Ferguson claimed on September 28, before the Champions League tie against Valencia, that Rooney was suffering from an ankle injury that meant he would miss the matches against the Spanish side and Sunderland as well as the Montenegro game.
Ferguson was insistent that Rooney was injured and expressed frustration at further questions about the exact state of the injury. “What do you want me to say?” Ferguson said at the time. “Do you want me to describe every ligament? Christ.”
On October 1, Ferguson said the prognosis had changed and that Rooney could be available to play for England. Although he did so, he has not played for United since the Bolton Wanderers game on September 29 in which he was substituted.
In another interview with broadcasters on Tuesday night, Rooney also said that he had been fit all season.
“I felt sharp tonight,” he said. “I've been training for the last two months, I haven't missed a training session. So I've got no problems with my fitness.”
If that was intended as a public rebuke to Ferguson then it will not have gone unnoticed — and it is hard to see what else it was.
Ferguson also left Rooney out of the squad for the game against Everton on September 11 with the storm over his private life then at its height. Ferguson said on that occasion that the player was being rested to spare him the abuse of his former club's supporters.
The player has also not signed his new contract and has only this season and the next one left on his existing deal. Until that is resolved there is always the possibility that Rooney, who turns 25 this month, could run his contract down to the summer of next year. While an unlikely scenario, it would probably earn him the most lucrative deal in football if he left United on a free transfer.
The closer Rooney gets to the end of his contract, the more nervous United will be.
If he has not signed it by the end of this season — or is not close to signing it — then United would have to consider seriously the prospect of selling him rather than risk losing the player for nothing the following summer.
Rooney said more than once on Tuesday night that he would need games in order to build up his sharpness and fitness.
“You need games to get your fitness in. I played a few games and felt I was getting sharp but then missed three or four and then don't feel as sharp as I thought I would do.
“Towards the end of last season I was injured. But during the World Cup I trained in every session and had no problems fitness wise. In this league you need to keep playing because if you're not in full fitness it's difficult to break teams down.”
“Of course I have had runs without scoring in the past,” he said.
“You just have to keep working hard and once one goes in I'm sure I'll score more. If I have chances and don't score then I'm disappointed. But there's a lot of games left in the season so I'm sure I can start scoring soon.
“I train as hard as I can every day and I do extra training which
I've done since I was a young boy so I keep doing my training.”
Rio Ferdinand rejected the suggestion that after the World Cup the England players no longer wanted to play for their country.
“It doesn't matter how much you get paid, it's about pride,” he insisted. “You go back to your house, look yourself in the mirror and say you've given 100 per cent and I worked hard enough for my team.
“But people pay their money to watch us perform and win games. Frustration creeps in sometimes. You take the rough with the smooth.”