Wayne Rooney was last night undergoing medical tests to ascertain the seriousness of an injury that is threatening to end the most prolific season of his career.
The Premier League's leading scorer and irresistible choice for footballer of the year had to be helped from the pitch with suspected ankle ligament damage on a traumatic night for Manchester United during which they threw away a one-goal lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich.
Rooney left the Allianz Arena on crutches, with his right foot in a protective boot, and will have a hospital scan on Wednesday amid concerns that he could be facing a possible six-week lay-off, beginning with Saturday's crucial league match with fellow title contenders Chelsea. His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said he did not think the injury was “terribly serious” and allayed fears that it could be the fourth time Rooney had broken a metatarsal in six years.
But Ferguson also acknowledged that it may be bad news. “It’s too early now to know for sure,” he said. “He has hurt his ankle and we'll have to wait and see. I can't answer how long it will be. He is being treated by our medics and we will see what he's like tomorrow.”
Rooney was injured in the build-up to Ivica Olic's winning goal three and a half minutes into stoppage time on a night in which the England striker opened the scoring only for Bayern to turn the match upside down and leave an angry Ferguson castigating the way his team had “caused our own defeat”.
Mario Gómez, the Bayern substitute, accidentally trod on Rooney's foot and the United player immediately pulled away, crumpling to the floor in obvious distress and twisting his ankle as he fell. He had to be helped off the pitch by three members of United's backroom staff, unable to put any weight on his injured foot.
Ferguson was unwilling to answer any more questions but Rooney will almost certainly miss the Chelsea game as well as the second leg of the Bayern match next Wednesday. The bigger fear for United, though, is that it could be more like four to six weeks and the potential seriousness of the moment was summed up by the Bayern coach, Louis van Gaal. "He is their most important player," he said.
"Just look at the statistics. Rooney is their top scorer with 34 goals. Dimitar Berbatov has 12 goals but until this weekend their second-highest scorer was the opposition, with 11 own goals. That's how important Rooney is to them. But I wouldn't wish an injury on anyone."
Rooney had scored inside the opening two minutes but Ferguson would later complain that “we were giving the ball away from minute one” and he was incensed by the nature of Bayern's goals.
The first stemmed from a needless handball by Gary Neville, allowing the France forward Franck Ribéry to score with a free-kick that deflected in off Rooney.
Then, with virtually the last attack of the game, Olic dispossessed Patrice Evra inside the penalty area to wriggle free and put in the winner.
“The first goal was a bit of luck," Ferguson said, "but the last goal ... how can I describe it? The game was done. That was a terrible goal. There was a lot of confusion back there [in defence]. Patrice got the ball caught under his feet and was a bit unlucky but it wasn't a good goal to concede.
“But we kept giving it away all night and we caused our own defeat in the end. We can't complain about the result. Give them (Bayern) credit because they pressed the ball everywhere but we are better than that in possession. It just was not good enough.
“We had chances to kill the tie [with the score at 1-0] but that would have been lucky for us because [Edwin] van der Sar time and again was making fantastic saves to keep us in the match. Bayern were the best.”
Van Gaal, nonetheless, maintained that United should be still regarded as the favourites to reach the semifinals. “I think United have a very good chance because of the away goal. I wanted to win 1-0 or get a 0-0. 2-1 isn't the best result but we have always scored in our Champions League games this season.” The away goal also gave Ferguson encouragement, but he was visibly angry on a night that ended with the tests on Rooney’s ankle being delayed by UEFA selecting him for their random drug-testing procedure. “Old Trafford is a different game,” Fergie said.