Sir Alex Ferguson will take his Manchester United side to the Reebok Stadium on Sunday concerned about how Wayne Rooney’s personal life is starting to affect his form.
The United and England striker has been hit hard by recent revelations that have seen media scrutiny into his life increase tenfold.
Rooney has scored just twice so far this season, whereas last term he already had six goals to his name by this point and there seems little doubt that he is struggling to cope with his new-found infamy.
“I don’t believe he has a confidence problem,” Ferguson said.
“But the boy is starting to realise finally, without any question, what kind of focus is on him as a human being.
“He is realising what it means to be at the centre of media attention for non-football-related questions. I don’t think the boy can turn a corner at the moment without a camera on him.”
United make the short trip to Bolton Wanderers looking to build on last weekend’s exciting 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Liverpool.
Yet it is Rooney’s form and the attention he is currently receiving that appears to be dominating the United manager’s thoughts.
“He can’t move without the paparazzi being on him and, for a young person, that is not what you want,” Ferguson added.
“You want to play and enjoy your football without that attention on you, because that can be quite exhausting.
“He would like to keep playing with freedom, but the siege of the tabloids can wear out anyone.”
Ferguson also revealed that Owen Hargreaves looks to be finally winning his two-year battle with tendinitis.
The midfielder’s career has been hugely hindered by a problem that has forced him to undergo double surgery on his knees and has restricted him to just one minute’s first-team football in two seasons.
But after watching him in training this week, the United manager believes that good news is around the corner.
“Owen Hargreaves has come back training and has looked very good,” said Ferguson.
“After having watched him in training yesterday, if he continues that way he’s going to give me another selection problem, no question about that.”
United will go into the contest against Bolton as favourites and history strengthens the idea that they should win comfortably at the Reebok.
They have only lost once there since the advent of the Premier League, with Nicolas Anelka scoring the winner for a side managed by Gary Megson in 2007.
Megson was replaced by Owen Coyle last season but despite the weight of history and the apparent gulf in class between the two outfits, the Bolton boss is refusing to be overawed by the task in hand.
“To beat Manchester United, a number of factors have to come together — the biggest being that our players have to play well,” he said.
“I will be looking to get the maximum out of my group. Ultimately, if they then beat us fair and square I can accept that.
“My disappointment will be if we don’t get to our maximum because I know that if we do, we have a real chance of getting points from this game.
“We will be positive like we have in every game this season.”
Coyle singled out Dimitar Berbatov as United’s main threat in the contest, particularly after his stunning hat-trick against Liverpool last weekend.
“Berbatov is in terrific form at the moment,” Coyle added.
“But they are a team full of quality players. If you start to go through their team individually, and look at who you have to stop, we will be here all day. It’s a very tough game, a local derby, against some of the very best players in world football. But that’s exactly why we’re in the job.”
United will be without Hargreaves, Michael Carrick (Achilles) and Antonio Valencia (ankle), while the home side’s Andy O’Brien is their only casualty as he nurses a torn thigh muscle.
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