MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has justified his reputation as master of the mind games by sending Bayern Munich mixed messages about the fitness of Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson, speaking at yesterday’s pre-match press conference, initially insisted there was “no chance” of the striker making a miraculous recovery from an ankle injury in time to face the Germans. But almost in the same breath the United boss, whose side must overturn a first leg deficit to reach the Champions League semi-finals, left the door open for Rooney to be named among the substitutes.
“He’s got no chance,” said the Scot. “We’ve made some good progress with the lad, the medical team have done fantastic, but I’m not prepared to take a risk on a player who is not 100 per cent fit.”
But he added: “I don’t think he will be on the bench although he might talk me into it. It is a difficult one.”
Rooney damaged ligaments during last week’s first leg in Munich, which Bayern won 2-1, and was not part of the 21-man squad who trained at Carrington yesterday morning.
In his absence United lost Saturday’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash with Chelsea, prompting Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti to declare the champions were a different team without their 34-goal talisman. One player sure to be available again is utility man John O’Shea, who is back after missing five months with a thigh injury.
United famously came from behind with two last-ditch goals to beat Bayern in the 1999 final, and Ferguson is facing a similar uphill task if they are to stay on course for a third consecutive Champions League final. He is hopeful, however, that home advantage will make the difference if his team find themselves needing another late goal.
“Old Trafford has got that suction towards the goal when we are really in full flow and the crowd is really up for it,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. Last minute goals are not by accident. It’s the nature of our stadium, it’s the nature of the way we take risks to win the game.”
PSYCHOBABBLE | FERGUSON’S MIND GAMES
SIR Alex Ferguson knows better than most that all is not always what it seems when it comes to pre-match selection pronouncements by managers. He once made his point by singling out Italians as the worst offenders, saying that if one served him pasta he would “check under the sauce to make sure”. Ferguson’s own predictions about Rooney’s fitness have not always proved accurate: he said the striker was “a doubt” and “didn’t look good” to face Milan last month, four days before he started and scored two goals in a 4-0 win.