Football: Beware the phantom injury

Wayne Rooney is the Incredible Hulk. He heals instantly.

At the weekend, he was injured.

On Tuesday he was fit. There hasn't been a recovery this fast since Lance Armstrong said: "So I just inject the needle here? ... And you're sure this thing is untraceable?"

No one is suggesting the Manchester United striker has taken anything - though a dose of humility might work wonders - but if he overcame injuries any quicker, he'd be faster than a speeding bullet.

Even Superman suffered with kryptonite. Rooney just needed to pull on his Three Lions body armour.

He's the Iron Man of England. (There are certain similarities between the striker and Robert Downey Jr. The actor likes to cultivate little patches of hair on his chin and Rooney likes to do the same on his head.)

But Tony Stark never overcame injuries like this. Rooney was ruled out of the Community Shield with a shoulder injury. At England training on Monday, he played with the joy of a puppy leaning out of a car window with his tongue flapping in the wind.

As always, England manager Roy Hodgson was on hand to clear up any confusion.

He explained that Rooney no longer had a "physical injury". What other injury does he have then? A shattered soul? Brewer's droop? A cubic foot?

(For younger readers, a cubic foot is an old imperial measurement. My dad always said I played football like I suffered from a cubic foot. This makes no sense, but tells you all you need to know about my playing standard and my father's intellect.)

Of course, Hodgson is hinting, with sledgehammer subtlety, that Rooney's injury is mental. The striker has a lot on his mind (all that stitched-in hair for a start).

If the striker's shoulder injury is on the mend, his Manchester United relationship remains fractured.

As far as club director Sir Alex Ferguson is concerned, there hasn't been a Red Devil this unpopular since David Beckham wandered around Manchester wearing a hair band to show off that football boot scar.

In fairness to Fergie, a footballer wearing a little girl's hair band around Manchester's city centre deserves a trip to the dog house. (I once got chased through Manchester's streets by a gang of skinheads while dressed as a woman. I was dressed as the woman, not the skinheads. That would just be weird. To this day, I'm not sure if they wanted to beat me up or buy me a drink.)

Ferguson wanted Beckham out. Beckham went. Fergie wants Rooney out. Fergie retires and leaves David Moyes with the biggest headache since he accidentally bumped into Marouane Fellaini at Everton training.

Moyes sees no way through this mess (Fellaini's hairdresser often feels the same way).

So the easiest option was to give Rooney a physical handicap. He paired him up with Anderson in training.

No, he didn't really. United are aware that their striker must stay in the shop window, so it's better not to leave him with a teammate who looks like he stays in the cake shop window.


But Hodgson believes Rooney's match fitness could be ascertained in Thursday morning's (Singapore time) international friendly. This might prove harder to gauge than he might think. England are playing Scotland.

Rooney could get by with his shoulder still sore. He could probably get by with his shoulder in a sling.

Still, he's not the only Premier League transfer target struck down with convenient injuries. A foot problem ruled Gareth Bale out of Tottenham's friendly against Espanyol at the weekend.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas insisted that Bale's foot injury meant he was under "no obligation" to report to White Hart Lane.

What did AVB think was going to happen to Bale's foot at the stadium? Is White Hart Lane a bed of nails?

And yet Bale reported for international duty for Thursday morning's friendly between Wales and the Republic of Ireland in his hometown Cardiff.

The Welsh winger was not fit enough for his club, but was considered fit enough for country.

Actually, it's Wales. As long as he's upright, he's probably fit enough for his country.

Common sense did prevail in the end.

Bale pulled out of the game on Monday, despite an intense training session in the Welsh camp... on his own. Why did he train on his own? Is a foot injury contagious?

Nevertheless, if his foot isn't fixed soon, Bale must seek a second medical opinion. He will speak to Real president Florentino Perez.

Perez hasn't got a medical degree, but his signing-on fee will soon take the pain away.

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