A taste of redemption for Rooney
"It's important players concentrate on our jobs now," is a statement attributed to Frank Lampard's Twitter page on July 3, 2010. In the wake of humiliation in Bloemfontein, England's bad men and true clearly yearned for the hermetically sealed world of their clubs. Just four weeks after the World Cup final, domestic football has returned to a country whose sores are still seeping after a biting exposure of the Premier League hype machine.
For the likes of Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney, the comfort blanket of club football is back on their persons, though all four must face a figurative public flogging back at Wembley on Wednesday as international duty returns all too soon for the accused.
The Community Shield, a game that only seems to matter to the team that wins it, should have provided a gentle reintroduction, give or take a catcall or two when the July criminals were in possession. Indeed, the Wembley crowd took great enjoyment in tit-for-tat booing of the other team's perceived villain of the veldt and audience participation lent this so-called friendly a fiesty atmosphere that was lifted by what was rather a good game.
Of the quartet, it is Terry, for once, who has kept the lower profile over the intervening weeks since that embarrassed return from South Africa. Rooney's nocturnal niceties, common to many a young man, have met with ludicrous over-reaction in certain publications while Lampard's relationship with a television presenter receives daily coverage that borders on stalking by one title in particular.
Cole meanwhile, has had his dream of escaping the English media ended by the admittance by Jose Mourinho that he cannot now be reunited with the full back at Real Madrid. Whatever your view on the individuals mentioned, it seems the cliche of being able to concentrate on the football can actually be a valid one. This enterprising encounter confirmed that football can only be the winner when positioned against news of the not-so private lives of the over-privileged pariahs.
The Premier League's summer of penury meant that the comfort of familiarity was also on offer here. Neither of last season's top two have employed much of a new broom and both Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson initially opted for placing faith in the tried and the tested. Those waiting for a glimpse of Yossi Benayoun, Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez would be made to wait. Indeed, the greatest intrigue in the starting XIs lay in the returns of Michaels Carrick and Owen. The former had been expected to miss the start of the season, while the latter would be making his first appearance since his 2009-10 season was ended by this very pitch during the Carling Cup final back in February.
Whatever his showing in the summer, it is Rooney who lifts the spirits of his Manchester United supporters, his every touch raising voices, and those bullish runs causing fans to step from out of their seats. A 21st-minute cameo showed why he is adored in Manchester and was so disappointing in South Africa. And it came after he had carelessly lost the ball. But this time, and in total contrast to the sulks of the Algeria atrocity, he charged to claim back possession with the type of tackle more associated with the likes of Terry. The critical acclaim was rapturous from those in red, green and gold and thereafter, a hint of swagger looked to have returned to his game.
When Rooney is enjoying himself then opponents must beware, and having earlier gone close after a typically artful dink from Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia profited from Rooney's persistence in hunting down another Scholes pearler to bisect Terry and Cole and slip in a chance that only needed to be slotted in to provide a 41st-minute lead. Though Rooney took the plaudits, the contribution from his veteran team-mate was the telling one to complete a half of vintage Scholes - he even found to time to escape punishment for a typical scything hack - and perhaps even justify Fabio Capello's botched attempt to get him on the plane to Johannesburg. Sir Alex Ferguson was fulsome in his praise for the creators.
"Antonio could not have missed it," Ferguson said. "It was a terrific ball in." His veteran midfielder, fast approaching his 36th birthday, is, in the words of his boss, "an incredible footballer" as Carlo Ancelotti countenanced when labelling Scholes "fantastic".
Rooney's contribution was kept to the first 45, as he and the frankly invisible Owen took their leave for Dimitar Berbatov and, to a far higher level of interest, Hernandez. 'La Chicharito' showed the zest and touch to match the instant hero status that his reception afforded him, and those somewhat feminine features mask a young man of no little determination to prove himself. He clearly also possesses the luck of the goal poacher, judging by his strike, where his excitable hack in front of an open net flicked fortuitously off his head and into the Chelsea net. "His speed took him to the ball," Ferguson said. "He'll take that all day. I don't think he lacks in confidence and he's different from what we've got, which gives us an advantage."
Chelsea's triumvirate of belittled Englanders suffered less happy reintroductions than Rooney. Cole was severely tested by Antonio Valencia's strong running while Terry looked as susceptible to pace as many claim he is. Lampard meanwhile was curiously lacking in his usual energy, and his frustrated features often bore resemblance to that of a man whose gold-plated iPod has been smelted down. There were explanations for these showings, according to Carlo Ancelotti, who bemoaned only getting the use of his leading players from July 26. "We knew it would be a difficult pre-season," he said, before admitting many of his players may need two weeks to be fully fit.
Yet Chelsea's status as Double winners was achieved by their fighting spirit and power and those facets nearly pulled them back level. Salomon Kalou knocked in a rebound after Edwin van der Sar, whose tiger-style kit reflected a dominant afternoon, could only palm away an Essien exocet. With Daniel Sturridge especially impressive in a late surge, a repeat of last year's 2-2 scoreline looked most likely but then Dimitar Berbatov, maybe even mindful of Hernandez's headline-grabbing, supplied the clinching moment with the type of finish that was once expected of him.
In the aftermath, Ferguson performed a Maradona-style manly embrace of the Bulgarian. "He's one who needs it," said touchy-feely Ferguson. "After all the adversity he faced last season; it's an old habit for big-money signings at this club if they're not scoring 50 goals."
"Fortunately, it's pre-season," reminded a visibly disappointed Ancelotti, who was unable to supply any light to the potential signing of midfielder Ramires or the loss of Deco to Fluminense. "Now we have to look forward," he said, before guaranteeing that "we will be at the top".
Ferguson, meanwhile, was evasive on the subject of his confirmed interest in Mesut Ozil, before yet again placing the season's destiny in his current group. "A lot of clubs are interested in him but I don't need to add to it," he said of his squad. "I trust them."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paul Scholes. Like last year, it is said that this is his last season so it is time to enjoy him while we can. This performance was further proof that no English player has his passing range or vision. He tired towards the end in the hot sun but this was a showing to remind of how his best days are still capable of being supplied.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: On this evidence, paltry as it is, they will surely mount another challenge. It will depend on Rooney continuing his revival and perhaps the finding of someone to play like Scholes did here every week if the old master cannot do it himself. Captain-for-a-day Nemanja Vidic showed why his contract demands were acceded to in nursing first Jonny Evans and then Smalling through.
CHELSEA VERDICT: There were notable signs of rustiness for much of the first 45 minutes but this powerful group showed their threat has not gone away in a late revival. Yossi Benayoun looked to add a different dimension, as did Sturridge. Perhaps England can look at him, should he be granted sufficient playing time. Elsewhere though, most notably in defence, there are signs of a hangover, both from the World Cup and last season's push for glory.
WEMBLEY WHINGE: This may pay your correspondent's miniscule street cred a telling blow but who or what is Tinchy Stryder? The young man in question's pre-match rapping/singing performance was not helped by poor sound but if this is what the kids are down with then this observer is happy to be advancing into years where such things can be avoided.