Fabio Capello—along with the rest of the nation—was given a major scare as Wayne Rooney limped off in the final minutes of Manchester United’s 2-1, first leg defeat to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the Champions League knock-out stage.
His injury occurred in the build up to Bayern’s last gasp winner, as he landed awkwardly on his right ankle and immediately signalled to the United Bench—a heart-in-mouth moment for United and England fans alike, looking on in growing concern. You got the feeling that Alex Ferguson was more anxious for his star striker and the extent of the injury than conceding a last-minute winner.
The fact that Rooney was a doubt for the match prior to kick off would have been a worry for Capello. Yet he started the match (which would have been a bitter-sweet feeling for the England manager), but finished the match with the medical staff. He arrived to Germany late after being passed fit for the crucial first leg tie, but left on crutches with his right leg in a brace.
This will keep Capello sweating, as England’s hopes of winning their first, prestigious World Cup since 1966, and for only the second time in their history, cling on the United’s talisman being fit and raring to go.
No one can doubt how important Rooney is to United and England, as his recent form and free scoring antics is what is required to scare opposition defences and breathe confidence for the rest of his team.
With all due respect to the rest of the squad, England does not boast another striker of Rooney’s ability. Granted there is no such thing as a “one man team”, despite what Frank Ribery may think, but a 70 percent fit Rooney will offer more than a 100 percent fit Emile Heskey, Jermaine Defoe, or Peter Crouch.
World Cup favourites Brazil can boast of having the likes of Robinho, Kaka, and Ronaldhino to name a few who can score match winning goals. Spain has Fernando Torres and David Villa in, arguably, world football’s deadliest partnership. Argentina has in their armour potentially the best player in the world Lionel Messi, as well as Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to fear.
Barring Rooney, England cannot boast a list of striker who opposition defences will be weary of. Peter Crouch has a height advantage, but international defences will have enough experience to deal with him. Jermaine Defoe and Carlton Cole do not strike me as world beaters, but perhaps I will be proved wrong come the summer. Nonetheless, the onus remains fully on Rooney’s shoulders.
This will have ramifications for United, too, of course. Rooney seems certain to miss the “title decider” against Chelsea at Old Trafford, whom they remain only a single point ahead of in the race for the Premier League title with only six games remaining.
Perhaps there is a silver lining in this ill fated news for Capello and England. Prior to Rooney’s injury, Frank Lampard put on a world-class performance, as he helped himself to four goals as Chelsea routed Aston Villa 7-1 at Stamford Bridge. A day later Steven Gerrard produced a stunning, albeit overdue, performance in the heart of the Liverpool midfield, as he dominated proceedings in the 3-0 victoiry over Sunderland at Anfield.
Capello would have been pleased that undoubtedly England’s best centre midfielders are laying down their mark in games and firing in goals. The pair, however, have been criticised over the years for being unable to not only play together, but perform as they do for their clubs at the international level.
Capello’s wish will be that they both, along with the rest of his squad, remain consistent in the final games of the season to gain momentum going into the World Cup.