Rooney 'anniversary' raises concern for future

LONDON - A year after Wayne Rooney's stellar season was derailed by an ankle injury many fans and pundits are wondering whether, at the age of 25, the England striker will ever get back to his scintillating best.

When Manchester United kicked off their 2010 Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich in Germany, Rooney was in the form of his life and looked set to be England's key World Cup weapon three months later in June.

However, ligament damage he sustained in the dying moments in Munich - and the ill-advised attempt to strap him up and rush him back for the home leg - proved the catalyst for the worst 12 months of his professional and personal life.

Rooney's goal after two minutes in Munich was his 35th of the season yet it proved to be his last of the campaign and he did not score in open play again for United until this January.

He still looks a shadow of the man who terrorised defences for club and country for two-thirds of last season and the fearless, teenage joy of his play at Everton and in his early United days appears to have waned.

"I don't think it's necessarily about injury now, so much," former England manager Graham Taylor told Reuters in a break from the Soccerex forum in Manchester on Thursday.

"I still don't think he has returned to the form we're all aware of. The one thing that would worry me, he came on to the scene so young - at 16 - how much more do we expect him to improve? Perhaps we've seen the best.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying his career's over or anything but somehow we're expecting more and more from a boy we've watched since he was 16 and his improvement has been fantastic," added Taylor.

"He's not playing as well as we know he's capable of playing but he is better than some three months ago. Let's hope it's a gradual thing for him and let's hope he does come back to his very best form. It would be an attribute to both his club and country."

Rooney was unrecognisable for England at the World Cup in South Africa where his touch appeared to desert him along with his eye for goal.

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His frustration boiled over as he ranted into a TV camera about the fans who had just booed their team off the pitch following a torpid display against Algeria.

The new season brought little change as the goals still failed to come for Rooney.

Off the pitch he was at the centre of tabloid stories about his private life that even led United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to leave him out of the team to face Everton to spare him abuse.

Rooney then stunned Old Trafford by saying he wanted to leave, only to perform a dramatic about-turn days later.

This season he has managed only 10 goals for club and country and has become almost a support act for Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez, dropping deeper into an advanced midfield role that some observers believe is his best position.

There have been moments of brilliance, not least the scissors-kick goal against Manchester City, but they have been few and far between.

Rooney has regularly maintained he is "getting back to his best" while Ferguson, unsurprisingly, has maintained a strong public defence.