HERNING (Denmark) • England and Manchester United were dealt a cruel blow on Wednesday, when Wayne Rooney was ruled out for up to two months with a knee ligament injury.
The news is most damaging to Louis van Gaal, the under-fire Manchester United manager. But it is also a serious cause for concern for England manager Roy Hodgson before the European Championship Finals in France this summer, and the latest pre-tournament headache for Rooney.
The United and England captain is expected to be out for between six and eight weeks after suffering the injury in the 1-2 loss away to Sunderland on Saturday, when he may have exacerbated the problem by playing through the pain in a failed attempt to spare his team from defeat.
Rooney, who has scored seven goals in his past nine matches for United, will miss at least eight matches for his club, as well as England's friendlies against Germany in Berlin on March 26 and the Netherlands at Wembley three days later.
"We have to cope with that problem," van Gaal said of Rooney's injury. "It was typical Wayne (to play on). He's a guy who wants to go until the end and even if he's feeling pain he doesn't want to go off. That's a fantastic attitude but sometimes it's also bad for his body."
Rooney's preparations for a series of leading tournaments with England have been beset by problems in the past. The striker suffered a broken metatarsal and ankle and groin injuries in the run-up to the 2006 and 2010 World Cup Finals respectively, as well as being suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have been outstanding for Leicester and Tottenham respectively this season but Hodgson will not want to travel to France with any doubts over the fitness of his 30-year-old captain and talisman.
Rooney, who is the country's record scorer with 51 goals in 109 appearances, has needed considerable time in the past to get back up to speed after lengthy injury layoffs, which will be an added worry for Hodgson.
ALWAYS A FIGHTER
He's a guy who wants to go until the end and even if he's feeling pain he doesn't want to go off. That's a fantastic attitude but sometimes it's also bad for his body.
LOUIS VAN GAAL, on the pressure that Wayne Rooney puts on his body.
The England manager's concerns will pale by comparison with the more immediate problems facing van Gaal, though.
United are six points adrift of the Premier League's top four, and with Jose Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager, hoping to take over at Old Trafford in the summer, Rooney's injury has merely intensified the pressure on the Dutchman.
Rooney did not travel with United's injury-ravaged squad to Denmark for yesterday's first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie against Midtjylland.
His absence leaves van Gaal without 12 players through injury or illness (Cameron Borthwick-Jackson) and, of most concern, just one recognised striker in Anthony Martial, the 20-year-old Frenchman.
Van Gaal insisted on Wednesday that he harboured no regrets over his failure to sign another striker and his decision to offload Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie.
Asked if he had erred over his strike force, the Dutchman said: "No, I don't think that's the case. Our policy is that we didn't want a big squad because otherwise you can't try youngsters in your team."
He said that he had no plans to recall James Wilson, the England Under-21 striker, from his loan spell at Brighton in the second-tier Championship. That leaves Will Keane, who returned last month from a dismal loan spell at Preston, as his only out-and-out striker after Martial.
Memphis Depay and Jesse Lingard, the wingers, could be asked to fill in.
THE TIMES, LONDON