By: STEVEN HOWARD
THERE is still a feeling in certain quarters that Wayne Rooney will leave Old Trafford in the summer.
However hard to believe we find this, Manchester United would at least get a good price with the England man now on a five-year contract.
Certainly, his words accompanying his re-signing seemed to come more from a script than his heart.
United fans who regard this prospect as madness will have had some of their fears allayed at Bloomfield Road in midweek, where there were clear signs there could be life after Rooney.
His second-half replacement by young Javier Hernandez turned the game on its head and launched the comeback that saw United level within six minutes before going on to win 3-2.
Hernandez is saddled with the unfortunate nickname of ‘El Chicharito’ — the Little Pea — but he had more of the dynamic properties of a Mexican jumping bean in a performance that saw him score United’s second, sandwiched between two more goals from Dimitar Berbatov.
So much for Rooney being irreplaceable.
So much also for the theory that Berbatov only scores when Rooney is on the pitch.
Of course, Hernandez came on at a time when Blackpool had more or less run themselves into the ground.
And it’s claimed he is far less impressive when he starts games.
But even Alex Ferguson has been bowled over by his progress, saying: “He has made a tremendous impact in his time here.
“His pace and timing of runs are fantastic.”
Yes, there were mitigating circumstances for Rooney at Blackpool — he was forced to play wide at a time when Ian Holloway’s side had the wind firmly in their sails. But even when he was switched down the middle, United continued to struggle.
Yet the emergence of Hernandez as a real rival for Rooney’s place will ensure that Ferguson continues to hold the upper hand in his dealings with his star player.
When the England striker announced his intention to quit Old Trafford earlier in the season after allegedly falling out with his manager, it seemed that United could be faced with the ultimate power-battle. Who goes first — Rooney or Ferguson?
But with United continuing on their merry way either without Rooney or with him firing on only a couple of cylinders — still just three goals for them all season — Ferguson’s position has been strengthened.
Should United actually succeed in going the whole campaign unbeaten, Ferguson will have made a powerful point.
Then comes the big decision.
He may, like he did with Cristiano Ronaldo, decide to cash in. And there’s little doubt Jose Mourinho would have Rooney at Real Madrid.
Alternatively, Ferguson might believe Rooney’s all-round game is such he could play him just behind Berbatov and Hernandez.
Whatever the outcome, Ferguson holds the cards.
REF Peter Walton was at the centre of a storm when he sent off West Ham’s Freddie Piquionne for celebrating with fans after scoring at Everton over the weekend.
At Bloomfield Road on Wednesday, he somehow ignored a stonewall penalty after a blatant bodycheck by United’s Rafael on Luke Varney when Blackpool led 2-0.
That could decide a title or even a relegation place. Yo, respect, Pete.
FABIO CAPELLO plods on in his own inimitable way. As muddled and befuddled as ever.
Now he says he should have taken Theo Walcott to South Africa. Yet leaving the Arsenal winger at home was just about the one decision he did get right.
Walcott, again held back by injury, scored just four goals in a season that was probably his most infuriatingly inconsistent in all his time at Arsenal.
Capello is confusing that Walcott with this season’s version.
What makes it even more puzzling is Capello admits Walcott WAS struggling, saying this week: “He played only a few games towards the end of the season and was not the same player.”
And yet, bizarrely, he now says he was wrong! And no mention of Adam Johnson, the winger he SHOULD have taken.
Then we come to Walcott’s team-mate Jack Wilshere. After the South Africa fiasco, Capello said the Gunner was one of the few young players he would be having a close look at.
He did — for all of seven minutes at the end of England’s game against Hungary in August.
Now he says Wilshere can not only be the new Claude Makelele but an even better one!
Make your mind up, Fabio.