Saturday, June 24, 2006

Shock of the Roo

Shock of the Roo
Who'd have thunk it - a million column inches, hundreds of hours of airtime, 45m anguished fans and all for one young man's broken foot. No ordinary foot of course but a foot nonetheless. In the seven weeks since Wayne Rooney fractured his fourth metatarsal, collapsing in agony on the Stamford Bridge turf, World War III would not have remove Rooney from both the front and back pages of the nation's newspapers.

The foot has healed, the machinations have finally come to an end (baring a refracture or related injury) and Rooney finally stepped out for his first start since the April 29th last night. His return to fitness so soon may be something of a surprise but the true miracle has nothing to do with physical rehabilitation at all. Indeed, the agonizing and debate over Rooney has been not just about any player but a Manchester United player no less. No, the real surprise in all this comes because of the traditionally strained relationship between United and England supporters in recent times.

In the not too distant past United players have been roundly jeered by England supporters, when playing for the national team - at Wembley in particular. In return Manchester United fans have held a long-standing antipathy towards England. The perceived unfair treatment of United players by the FA and the media has intensified this divide from Reds' supporters point of view. Think about Cantona's ban in 1995, when the FA went back on a promise to honour United‚’s self-imposed sanction. Then there was Keane's suspension in 2004, when the FA punished the Irishman twice for his tackle on Leeds' Alfe Inge Haarland . Think also of the length of Ferdinand's sanction for missing a drug test when so many other players had simply been fined for the same offence. Then there was the treatment given to David Beckham by the England-supporting public in the wake of his red card against Argentina at the 1998 tournament.

Paranoia it may be, but United fans - led by the manager Sir Alex - have long held the governing body in contempt, with the England team as their principal puppets tarred with the same brush. Many England fans, in the meantime, would be happy to see a United-free national side.

Yet, last night Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and many other traditionally anti-United fans cheered more loudly for a United player than any other on the pitch. A nation, United? Now that's the real wonder of Roo!


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