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A landmark day to be forgotten

Saturday, September 11, 2010

By Dominic Pollard

Today saw Sir Alex Ferguson take charge of his 700th Premiership game, a phenomenal record. Only seven clubs have been in the top flight for every season since the creation of the Premiership and Fergie is the only manager to remain at the helm for every one of those years.

His trip to Goodison Park, however, was a far from ideal way to celebrate the landmark. United led 3-1 as the two sides entered stoppage time, but two goals in three minutes salvaged the most unlikely of draws for Everton.

Through all the drama at lunchtime one story will inevitably dominate the back pages - Rooney's absence. With all his years of wisdom, I was surprised to see Ferguson leave Rooney out of the match-day squad. The problems in the striker's personal life have been all too well documented and Fergie stated before the game, “We are not going to subject him to the abuse he gets here.”

Rooney receiving grief from the fans at the Merseyside club would be nothing new, though. By hiding him away, Fergie was, in my opinion, only going to exacerbate the problems. Let Rooney focus on his football rather than drawing more attention to his troublesome 'private' life by trying to protect him.

His absence will now probably cause more headlines than if he had just played. He was always going to receive a hostile reception but Rooney showed for England that he has not let his personal problems effect his performances on-the-pitch.

Rooney will not be able to out run the chants and taunts of away fans. The sooner he can return to the normality of playing regular football, the sooner the stories of his affair can be swept under the rug and into the archive of quickly forgotten misdemeanours by English footballers.

The United manager's decision had looked to be vindicated as his team were cruising to victory and it would be unfair to say that if Rooney had been playing that the result would be any different. Nevertheless, had they won, pundits and fans alike would be praising his decision to keep Rooney out of the limelight.

United played well without Rooney and should have taken all three points back to Manchester. Moreover, Fergie has shown through his dealings with the likes of Keane and Beckham that he is the ideal man to help the England striker through this dark patch of his professional career.

Ferguson's landmark game proved problematic before it began and disheartening once it ended. The team, and Berbatov especially, may have performed in a convincing manner without Rooney but the drama surrounding their number ten was a distraction that Fergie and his side could have done without.

A Champions League tie at home to Rangers on Tuesday night is probably just what the club, and more importantly Wayne Rooney, need as they will no doubt be keen to try and get back to business as usual.

Check out my regular blog – Polly's Pause for Sport


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