Rooney takes chance on unsettled United

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Of all football's laments, one of the more intriguing is the thought of what might have happened had Sir Alex Ferguson not gone on holiday in 1988, allowing Irving Scholar and Terry Venables to persuade Paul Gascoigne to turn his back on a proposed move to Manchester United and instead join Tottenham. Would Gascoigne, his wildness checked by Ferguson's disciplinarian regime, have abandoned the drink and the kebabs, avoided injury and gone on to become the best midfielder in the world? At least with Wayne Rooney, fans will not die wondering, after the England forward's move to Old Trafford was confirmed on Tuesday for a fee that could reach £27m depending on performances.

He may play in a more advanced role, but in build and temperament Rooney is the modern Gazza, a wonderfully precocious talent with trouble written in every mischievous wrinkle. Everton fans who spent the whole of Monday's draw with United thinking up new ways to suggest the 18-year-old is in-bred will disagree, but under normal circumstances Rooney's move would be the best thing for all concerned.

Quite aside from the fact that Ferguson is better equipped than most to rein in a private life that has shown recent signs of sliding out of control, there are perfectly good football reasons why he should be better able to develop at Old Trafford than at Goodison Park. At United, he should benefit from the opportunity to experience the Champions League, from playing alongside a better quality of player, and also from being freed from the burden of playing every game.

The worry is that these are not normal circumstances and that the environment at United is looking increasingly unstable.

When Rio Ferdinand returns from suspension, and Ruud van Nistelrooy from injury, everything might click and the concerns that have been expressed over the past few weeks may be cast to the winds. Ferguson has made a deliberate effort to sign youth and Rooney clearly fits that policy and so a period of transition is only natural, but that cannot disguise just how ordinary they have been so far this season.

It was suggested last season that Ferguson's dispute with John Magnier was the beginning of the end for his reign, and nothing that has happened so far this season has convinced that that is not the case. The possibility remains that Rooney has stepped from the turmoil of Everton into even more turmoil at United.

And then there is the question of just where he is going to play. It may be that Ferguson intends to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation he adopted two summers ago, in which case Rooney can compete for a place as one of the three, along with Alan Smith, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs.

If, though, Ferguson returns to a 4-4-2 when the injuries clear, Rooney will be directly competing for the support-striker's berth with Smith. Given that Smith has been, by far, United's best player this season, that could mean Rooney spending a lot of time on the bench, which is good neither for him nor for England.

It would have sounded perverse even a year ago, but hindsight may wonder what might have been if only Rooney had not joined United.

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