Sir Alex Ferguson believes Wayne Rooney's poor performance at the World Cup was principally down to the weight of expectation on the striker. The 24-year-old failed to score in four matches for England, who were eliminated in the second round after a heavy defeat by Germany.
Rooney had been widely expected to demonstrate the form for England, which brought him 34 goals for Manchester United this season but never looked at his best. Ferguson has denied that Rooney was hampered by an ankle injury suffered during the run-in with United but has admitted that pressure played a part.
"There was such expectation," United's manager said. "There was talk that he was going to be the player of the tournament. Don't forget, that was the prelude to the whole thing. He was going to be the star, he was going to outshine them all: [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo. So that level of expectation comes into it. And he's not got great experience of the World Cup really. You wait, though. In four years' time you will see a different player."
Ferguson was so concerned about Rooney's state of mind after England's dismal goalless draw with Algeria that he broke off from a holiday in France to call his player. He encouraged the striker not to be affected by a "debilitating" atmosphere in the squad and to relax.
Rooney had reacted to the booing that greeted England's performance against Algeria by criticising the fans, though he swiftly apologised.
Ferguson believes the troubles afflicting Rooney were a problem for the other members of Fabio Capello's team, who reached the tournament with nine wins from 10 qualifiers.
"I watched England's games and I was baffled by what I saw, too, but I wasn't totally surprised," he told SunTalk Radio. "There are a lot of factors – the burden of expectation, the fact they have been away a long time and the hard English season.
"They had an easy passage to South Africa. They qualified from a group, which you'd have to say was a million to one that they wouldn't qualify ... Maybe it would have been better if England had been in a tougher group. Their build-up was huge. I feel for them because it was a burden."
Ferguson said Germany had an edge over England because of the Bundesliga's winter break and the country's tradition of success in international tournaments.
"The history they've got is quite incredible," he said. "That organised mentality they have, the belief in themselves, it carries them a long way. None of the English team has any experience of playing in a semifinal at a World Cup. The German mentality is 'we are always in the semifinals'.
"Plus the fact they get a month's rest in January, it must help. All the England team are playing in [the Premier League] so they're all affected."
Ferguson is tipping Holland to win the World Cup. "They haven't played at their best yet and are in the semifinals."
© Guardian News and Media 2010
Keywords: 2010 FIFA World Cup