Rooney back to lead Euro charge
Wayne Rooney is back in the firing line and ready to spearhead United's attack in the Battle of Britain tonight against Rangers. Reds boss Sir Alex Ferguson has backed the 24-year-old England striker to respond with a typical display in the Champions League Group C opener against the Scottish champions. Fergie left Rooney out of United's squad last Saturday in the Premier League match at his former club Everton in the wake of front page allegations that he paid a prostitute while his celebrity wife Coleen was pregnant. The striker spent the weekend attempting to patch up his marriage, while United blew a 3-1 lead against Everton in stoppage time to draw 3-3. And reports today suggested Rooney had succeeded in saving his relationship. Ferguson said on Saturday that he'd omitted last season's 34-goal leading scorer to protect him from abuse at Goodison. The Reds manager refused to add to the explanation despite speculation that Rooney had been axed as a punishment. I am not clearing it up. I left him out for the reasons I said on Saturday. I am not going beyond that, said Sir Alex. I told the TV interviewer on Saturday why I left him out. I was not going to subject him to that nonsense at that ground. It was a benefit to our team. I have no regrets at all. I did the right thing. I have no concerns about playing him at all. He will always prove his worth. He is a terrific player. His performance for England and scoring was as good a boost to him as anything. We expect a good performance from him. We look forward to that. I don't know if the situation will inspire him. He has a lot of experience behind him in these situations. He will be looking forward to it. All our players look forward to European games. They are wonderful occasions. We have had some fantastic nights at this club. Sir Alex's counterpart at Rangers, Walter Smith, wanted to hand Rooney his full debut as a teenager, now he's asking a 40-year-old to keep the United striker quiet tonight. The one-time temporary Old Trafford No 2 to Sir Alex Ferguson was Everton boss between 1998 and 2002 as the Boy Wonder was storming through Goodison's Academy ranks. The Rangers boss was convinced Rooney was ready for Everton's first team but he had to shelve his plans. By the time Rooney made his debut as a 16-year-old Smith had been sacked. I wanted to put Wayne in the Everton team before he was 16 but unfortunately he had not left school. We were not allowed to do it, Smith said. He was an outstanding young player. Probably the best I have seen in my whole career. There was no doubt he was going to make his mark in football and he has done. He is coming into a spell now where he is starting to influence games. I don't think if there is pressure on him, it will work to our advantage. Our job is to overcome him and that is what we have to do. Rangers defender David Weir, a former colleague of Rooney's at Everton, is charged with the task of keeping tabs on a player 16 years his junior. My earliest memory of Wayne is him breaking into the Everton team. He came as a 16-year-old and took to it like a duck to water, he said. He scored great goals like the famous one against Arsenal and has gone from strength to strength. I wouldn't say I am looking forward to playing against him! I would rather be playing with him, no doubt about that.