ANOTHER QUIET WEEK IN MANCHESTER
Rooney rumours…breaking embargos…and why Roscoe wants to get out more but can’t
Sunday January 1st
The week actually starts on Sunday morning as all daily sports journalists know too only well. Pick up the papers with some hesitation and Nick Harris’ excellent exclusive in the Mail on Sunday about Wayne Rooney being disciplined by Sir Alex Ferguson for his Boxing Day ‘night out’ confirms my worst fears.
Just glad I had gone easy on the booze the night before. I had an uneasy feeling it was going to be a busy day. Having covered United for 12 years, you get an instinct when something’s not right.
Ferguson’s explanation of Rooney’s absence from the squad to face Blackburn the previous day had left all of us in the Old Trafford press room unconvinced, raising more questions than answers: “Missed some training sessions, few knocks and strains, should be all right for Newcastle on Wednesday.”
At least, it wasn’t the usual “he’s got a virus.” Of course, no chance of questioning Fergie on it any further because he doesn’t do post-game pressers.
Call Ian Monk, Rooney’s press agent, but apart from confirming Rooney had been out on Boxing Day night, and insisting there is no damage to the relationship between player and manager, he says all other information must come from United. Great!
Luckily, other sources are more helpful and confirm that Rooney, Jonnny Evans and Darron Gibson were not fined for breaking any Christmas curfew but for “below-par” performances in training the following day. Thought to myself: good job us reporters don’t get punished for a hangover. Some would be penniless.
By the time I’ve written a Fergie-Rooney inside piece, a back pager, plus a match report on why Fergie must drop De Gea and play Lindegaard, the daylight has gone and I’ve even missed most of Sunderland’s surprise win over City on TV. How lucky are United? The result cancels out their shock loss to Rovers. Go out for a run (ok, a slow jog) to clear my head rather than maintaining any New Year resolution to get fit.
Monday January 2
It’s a preview day – City are playing Liverpool on Tuesday. Drive the 45 minutes to City’s training ground at Carrington on the outskirts of Manchester, it literally backs onto United’s which is very handy because both Fergie and Bobby Manc, as City fans call City’s manager, hold pressers within half an hour of each other on Fridays.
Mancini has calmed down after ripping into his players for their setback at the Stadium of Light. Says he will rotate his squad and make five or six changes, bringing back the big guns, Aguero, Silva, Clichy and Richards as he looks for a positive response. He doesn’t make great audio for TV and radio but that’s their problem. We can always make some sense of it in print.
United preview for their game at Newcastle but no press conference because Fergie doesn’t hold them in midweek unless it’s a Champions League game when he is under orders from UEFA. No chance then to push him on Rooney – but the word is he will be back.
Decide to check out his claim in Saturday’s programme that he couldn’t remember a better first half to a League season in his 25 years as United manager. Spend a couple of hours trawling through the Premier League’s website looking at the half-way tables. And Fergie is actually spot on. Well, he would have been had they beaten Blackburn. A win would have given them 48 points after 19 games. Still, 45 points isn’t shabby – they’ve only bettered it three times in 19 years.
Set off for City v Liverpool, picking up a journalist friend on the way. But the journey to the Etihad Stadium takes two hours rather than the usual one because of traffic chaos caused by
the high winds. A lorry has been blown over on the Thelwall Viaduct, M6 north has been closed and all surrounding roads clogged up with traffic.
Ever the professional, I’m more worried about missing the delicious carvery served in the City press room than the game itself. Has to be the best food in Premier League, by the way. As it turns out, arrive in plenty of time for both.
Thank God my Merseyside colleague Paul Joyce is with me for the game because Liverpool have just announced they will not appeal the Suarez ban but have had a right pop at the FA. He is handling the story, leaving me to do the game which City win relatively comfortably thanks after being given a flying start thanks to Pepe Reina’s blunder.
Not often that Craig Bellamy gets cheered by opposition fans. But City followers remember his sterling efforts during Mark Hughes’ reign and give him a good reception when he comes on, although Steve Gerrard is roundly booed.
Kenny Dalglish merits a few boos in the press conference as he try to defends Liverpool’s handling of the Suarez affair. Leave Joycey to handle Kenny while I nip into a side room where City have given us James Milner for a follow-up.
Wednesday January 4
Write the Milner piece, throwing it ahead to Sunday’s FA Cup derby battle. Decent, sensible quotes from a decent, sensible pro. Nice line that United’s pain after the 6-1 humiliation would be three times City’s pleasure.
Had to laugh when Robinho warns rebel Tevez in the Corrieire Della Sport “you can’t muck around” if you join AC Milan. Pot, kettle and black come to mind. Watch Newcastle thump United on Sky in the evening. De Gea dropped, Rooney back but to no avail. Send a stream of texts to my north east colleague Niall Hickman, who is covering the game, mentioning stats he probably didn’t want or need – first time Untied haven’t scored this season, first defeat to the Toon since September 2001, last time they lost two on the bounce etc.
Niall sends his thanks but must think I need to get out more.
Thursday January 5
No chance of getting out more because Manchester football reporting is unrelenting at the moment. Mancini has brought his press conference forward 24 hours. So down to Carrington again for 10am. At our behest, press officer Simon Heggie has to remind assorted TV, radio, agency and internet people that the dailies part of the press conference is embargoed until midnight on Friday.
Time and again this season, at both United and City, someone has broken the embargo and tweeted or leaked our stuff. Hard enough to get anything fresh as it is, without that happening.
After spending around £200m in his two years in charge, Mancini wants to spend again in January. He points to the loss of the Toure brothers to the African Cup of Nations, Gareth Barry’s suspension for the United game and several injuries. Hard not to laugh when he claims he might only be able to name 17 players for Sunday’s game. Poor lamb.
Friday January 6
Fergie, in my view anyway, is unusually low-key in his 9.30am press conference. Won’t talk about Rooney, but can’t resist a pop at Liverpool over Suarez, and in true panto season fashion warns City “we’re right behind you.”
Insists reports linking him with Frank Lampard have “no foundation” but doesn’t actually deny that United have made an enquiry.
The embargoed part of the conference for the dailies is getting shorter by the week. Broadcast and agencies are getting 10 minutes, we’re getting about three or four minutes. Collectively, we vow to tackle United on the issue.
Move round the corner to City’s training ground where nice guy Joleon Lescott is put up for the dailies to interview. Reckons Fergie’s regretting calling City the noisy neighbours and that City have now taken over from Liverpool as their biggest rivals.
That will do nicely, Joleon. Spend rest of the day tapping away.
Still playing seven-a-side football on a Friday evening – but, at 55, I’m not the oldest. My old mate John Richardson (Ricco to everyone who knows him) is still puffing away at 58. Inevitably I am known as Roscoe after the tennis player.
On way into Chester for post-match drinks when called by office about Indy front page on Rooney. Quick call to United and Ian Monk result in a statement dismissing the story, so evening not totally ruined.
Saturday January 7
Bliss, a day off. Go for a long bike ride around the Wirral peninsula to get Manchester football out of the system. Still listen to 5Live commentaries later in the day while washing the car.
Sunday January 8
Get to City to be greeted by the news that the rumours were true – Paul Scholes is coming out of retirement and is on the bench. But the week ends the way it started with Rooney scoring twice in United’s 3-2 win, re-affirming his commitment to the club and upsetting Mancini for influencing Chris Foy to send off Vincent Kompany.
If all that wasn’t enough, United are drawn away to Liverpool in the fourth round.