Wayne Rooney is determined to get back in shape after pre-season as there is ‘no room for second best’ at Manchester United, the striker claimed.
After suffering a severe gash on his thigh during his second game of the season, the former Everton man was ruled out for at least six weeks and saw new-boy Robin van Persie net a hat-trick the next game.
And if his position is not already under threat, the England talisman must regain his fitness to impress his manager and teammates.
“As a striker I need to work hard all the time,” he told the Mirror. “I need to be sharp, which means my fitness has to be right to play well. If it isn’t, it shows.
“It would probably be different if I were a full-back. As a centre-forward for Manchester United, there’s no place to hide.
“I’ve got to work as hard as I can, otherwise the manager will haul me off the pitch or drop me for the next game.
“There’s no room for failure or second best at this club.”
Sir Alex Ferguson has a long history of claiming that no player is bigger than a club, and has punished fan-favourites David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo for misdemeanours in the past.
And the 26-year-old striker is no different – last December he was dropped for a home tie against North West rivals Blackburn after enjoying a night out with friends – United lost the match on Fergie’s 70th birthday 2-3.
“I’m happy at Manchester United, despite the downs that sometimes take place at a football club,” Rooney added.
“Like when we stuff Wigan 5-0 on Boxing Day. I go out for dinner with a few of the lads, and our other halves, to a hotel.
“The next day, the manager pulls me up and tells me he’s not happy and doesn’t feel I’ve trained properly.
“He fines me, but there’s worse to come. I’m dropped for the next game, on New Year’s Eve, against Blackburn.
“At a lot of clubs, people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at players having a night out six days before a game. But that’s the difference at Manchester United and a mark of the high standards the manager demands.
“It’s a big deal, another lesson learned.”
And having already played ten years in the Premier League, the demands of the top-level football have begun to take their toll on Rooney.
“Physically I’ve taken a bit of a battering over the years – being lumped by Transformer-sized centre-backs or having my muscles smashed by falls, shoulder barges and last-ditch tackles, day in, day out, has left me a bit bruised,” Rooney said.
“When I get up in the morning after a game, I struggle to walk for the first half an hour. I ache a bit. It wasn’t like that when I was a lad.
“I remember sometimes when I finished training or playing with Everton and United, I’d want to play some more. But football has had a massive impact on my body because my game is based on speed, power and intensity.”
And playing alongside veteran midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs – whose careers and longevity remain vital in Fergie’s title-winning plans – has inspired Rooney to continue to playing at the highest level.
“Like any player I’m fearful of getting a career-ending injury,” he said.
“I could be in the best form of my life and then one day a bad tackle might finish my time in the sport. It’s over then.
“But that’s the risk I take as a player in every match. I know football is such a short career that one day, at any age, the game could be snatched from me unexpectedly.
“So I want to decide when I leave football, not a physio, or an opponent’s boot.”