FOX Soccer Exclusive
United trophy exposes bigger issues
A slightly perturbing thought for Manchester United arose during their otherwise tranquil 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic in the FA Community Shield game at Wembley -- if Robin van Persie doesn’t score a hatful of goals, who does?
The obvious answer -- Wayne Rooney -- is complicated by the fact that the Englishman is keen to get away from Old Trafford before the transfer window closes early next month. He craves a fresh start under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. But the reason new United coach David Moyes seems reluctant to lose Rooney was evident under the Wembley arch as only van Persie punished a Wigan side who are spending the season in the Championship after doing the bitter-sweet double of FA Cup and relegation.
Van Persie put United ahead with a brilliant header in the opening minutes and, although there was more than a touch of luck about his second goal just before the hour mark, he carried the same sharp threat as in a dream debut season for the club last time round.
The former Footballer of the Year found the net 30 times, continuing the rich vein of form with which he had concluded his sojourn at Arsenal. With Rooney weighing in, United took the Premier League title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season. And initially it looked as if the new man was determined to keep them in tandem.
Moyes declared in plain terms, while United were doing their customary preseason globetrotting, that Rooney would stay. But the response from the player’s camp has been so unenthusiastic that Ferguson’s successor may not get his way. So much for speculation that the rift between the England forward and the club would be healed by Ferguson’s departure and the arrival of Moyes, under whom Rooney had begun his senior career at Everton.
The new boss stressed before Sunday’s game that reports of Rooney being humiliated by training apart from the rest of the first team were wide of the mark; it was simply that he needed extra workouts to get over a shoulder injury sustained in the his only action this far, half a game behind closed doors against Athletic Bilbao. Now he wants Rooney to get more minutes when England meet Scotland in a Football Association celebration game at Wembley on Wednesday.
Then, he hinted at Wembley, there was a chance of Rooney taking part at Swansea. The options are limited with Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez -- ultra-reliable finisher though he is -- on the injured list and Danny Welbeck proving far from a specialist goalscorer, for all the excellence of his all-round play. And one risk Moyes will not want to take is to overplay van Persie, whose fitness record was not good for much of his time at Arsenal, before Arsene Wenger’s staff found a way of managing it.
Problems, problems. Even the biggest clubs suffer them and Moyes acknowledged the difference between the intensity of the spotlight on how you deal with these difficulties at Old Trafford as compared with a mid-size club such as Everton. On the other hand, after 11 years of considerable but trophyless achievement on Merseyside, he suddenly knows how it feels to have bright shiny metal in your hands.
Moyes did seem a little embarrassed to have the Community Shield thrust on him by captain Nemanja Vidic and soon gave it back. But it’s there in the history books now, even if van Persie summed up the strangeness of collecting a trophy before the real season begins. ‘’One day, one game, one trophy,’’ he said, shaking his head.
Van Persie appeared more irked than bewildered by the consensus among betting organizations that makes United third favorites for the title, pointing out that they won it only a few months ago. ‘’How do you explain that?’’ he asked. In truth any child could: the retirement of Ferguson, the return to Chelsea of Mourinho and the $140 million already spent on reinforcements by Manchester City and their new coach, Manuel Pellegrini.
But my money remains on United -- as long as Moyes can resolve his striker issue. After a poor start during which they remained lethargic in the hot sunshine despite the encouragement of van Persie’s superbly steered header from a Patrice Evra cross, they became slick and commanding as Michael Carrick took man-of-the-match honors, offering a powerful retort to those who insist Moyes must strengthen the midfield.
Throughout the second half, United continued to improve and several players were lining up for a shot before van Persie tried his luck. It was an innocuous effort and Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson had it covered when James Perch stuck out a foot, diverting it into the net.
Meanwhile Rooney stayed on the outside looking in. Looking from afar, not at Wembley, missing out. Moyes has a problem. But he also has Rooney under contract and holding him might just get the new regime off to a significant start.
''I'm quite enjoying talking about it because I'm hearing so many of you are getting it wrong and I know most of you,'' Moyes said after the match. ''I think to myself, `I think you are a bit cleverer than that' ... But some of you aren't acting that way at the moment.''
Whether or not Moyes wants to admit it or not, the situation will only continue to grow.
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