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London – Wayne Rooney has been warned he faces a career-long battle with his weight as he fights for a future at Manchester United alongside Robin van Persie.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who has always paid close attention to family history when assessing the long-term physical condition of players, is putting the frighteners on 26-year-old Rooney in an attempt to get him focused on forming an attacking dream partnership with United’s new £24 million Dutchman.
The United manager, in charge of a milestone 1,000th league game for United at Southampton today, believes his two superstar strikers can work together, but he is aware it depends on Rooney working extra hard on maintaining his perfect fighting weight.
Rooney is out for four weeks with a badly gashed leg, but there were concerns before the injury about his overall level of fitness, with England manager Roy Hodgson disappointed about the player’s condition during Euro 2012 after he had taken time off to relax at the end of the league season.
Through his love of horse racing and the importance of good breeding, Ferguson has always studied the parents of players to judge if they will put on weight later in their career.
He admits signing Teddy Sheringham at the age of 30 only after noting the striker’s father had not gained an ounce of fat in middle age. Unfortunately for Rooney, his gene pool is different, as the infamous picture of his parents emerging from the sea a few years ago would suggest.
Ferguson said: “Wayne is no Ryan Giggs. Ryan has never put a pound on in his whole life. Wayne is a boy that needs games, you can see that from the frame he’s got. He is stocky, strong and really needs games, simple as that.
“Some people are lucky. I have had nights out with the jockey Mick Kinane, we’ve had three bottles of wine and he’s still the same weight, not an ounce on him. Unbelievable, and his father Tommy is exactly the same.”
Ferguson sent Rooney to Nike’s headquarters in America to work on his conditioning two years ago, but insists the player will stay at the club this time.
“Wayne will do his work here. He’ll concentrate on that and of course he will regain his fitness,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson is aware that he can sign Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, whose link-up play with United new boy Shinji Kagawa helped them win the Bundesliga, for £12 million next summer when the Pole has only a year left on his contract.
But his ideal wish is that Rooney knuckles down as part of a devastating United strike quartet that also includes Van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.
“Rooney and Van Persie can play together, absolutely. There is no doubt about that. And Welbeck can play with either of them. I have good options,” said Ferguson, who admits he will not have a problem leaving Rooney on the bench again.
“The speculation about that doesn’t bother me, to be honest with you, I don’t have the slightest bit of interest,’ he said. ‘It could affect him [Rooney]. Players like to be playing every week or else they are disappointed, and I am glad they are disappointed. But it’s only been one game, it’s not a problem.”
Ferguson takes his team to St Mary’s glad that he can pick two proper centre-halves for the first time this season. Jonny Evans is fit to play alongside captain Nemanja Vidic, allowing Michael Carrick to revert to midfield.
In his 28th season at United, Ferguson is showing no signs of mellowing. The latest bugbear is keeping his team secret until kick-off.
Two journalists have been banned by United for revealing that Rio Ferdinand would miss the game against Everton and he is angry at England manager Roy Hodgson for disclosing that winger Ashley Young will miss today’s match.
“Why should you let anyone know what your team is? It’s straightforward,” said Ferguson. “We’ve been put at a disadvantage preparing for Southampton. We won’t be giving them (the Football Association) any information again, that is for sure.
“I never name my team until the day of the game now. If players know the team, they tell their agent, who might have another player on the other team. It’s too easy to get out.
“When I first came to United, I named my team on a Friday. We worked on playing three centre-backs against Everton. On the day of the game, Graeme Hogg was in the papers saying, ‘How we are going to beat Everton’. I couldn’t believe it!” – Mail On Sunday