Wayne Rooney accuses Manchester United players of faking injuries

Wayne Rooney and Roy Keane
Wayne Rooney with fellow ex-Manchester United captain and current TV pundit Roy Keane before Sunday's match against Arsenal - Reuters/Carl Recine

Wayne Rooney has launched a withering attack on some of Manchester United’s injured players by accusing them of deliberately ducking out of games to protect themselves for the FA Cup final or European Championship this summer.

United slumped to their 19th defeat in all competitions as Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford moved Mikel Arteta’s side back above Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table and ensured the title race will go down to the final day.

City can return to the summit by beating Spurs on Tuesday, when Arteta will hope Tottenham can avoid defeat to give their north London rivals the advantage going into the final round of fixtures on Sunday.

Leandro Trossard’s 20th-minute goal was enough to see off a severely depleted United and intensify the pressure on manager Erik ten Hag, who was without 11 senior players through injury.

But former United striker Rooney believes there are players in the Dutchman’s squad who are opting out of games to protect their own interests with the Cup final against City and Euros to come.

“There are some very good players in that squad and the performances are way below par,” said United’s record goalscorer.

“Look at the injuries they have picked up. Some of those players can play. A hundred per cent. You’ve got a European Championship coming up, an FA Cup final coming up.

“Because they are getting a little bit of stick now, it is easy for players to stay out of a little bit and then come back towards the final and get themselves fit for the European Championship.

“I have seen it myself over the years. I just think the players who have been injured, they are not filling themselves with any credit at the minute and the manager is going to take all the stick for that.”

United declined to comment on Rooney’s remarks.

Keane backs Rooney

Another former United captain, Roy Keane, echoed Rooney’s sentiments when he said: “It is not a good sign if players do not want to come back from injury and play. You will always have those that are carrying injuries but you’d hope they would be desperate to get back playing football.

“There are always a few players at a club that drag their heels with injuries, but generally and thinking of players I played with, if you give them a length of time they’ll be out for, they will look to knock a week or two off that.

“Sometimes when it is a certain time of the season or players are lacking confidence they are not in a hurry to get back in the team.”

United’s defeat left them marooned in eighth with two games to play and at risk of missing out entirely on European qualification this season, which Ten Hag admitted would be “very damaging”.

“It’s very damaging but that is the situation we are in but still we can still get there,” the United manager said. “We have the opportunities, we have to take responsibility, and then you have to switch on on any occasion to get this done and fight even when the problems are massive.

“You can’t progress a team in certain key areas with so many injuries, it’s like swimming with your hands on your back and you have to keep your head above the water level – that is what we try to do.”

Erik ten Hag claps the fans in the rain
Erik ten Hag is under intense pressure after a chaotic season - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

With United having endured a wretched campaign, the club have cancelled their traditional end-of-season awards dinner. It had originally been scheduled for next Monday – the day after the Premier League season finishes – but with the Cup final to play on May 25 the club say they do not want any distractions ahead of the trip to Wembley.

It is the second time in three seasons the awards dinner has been canned. United’s players previously took the decision to cancel their awards in the 2021-22 season when results also nosedived under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

Arsenal need City to drop points to stand any chance of winning a first league title for 20 years and Arteta hopes Spurs can give his side a helping hand. Arsenal then host Everton on Sunday while City are at home to West Ham.

“My experience in this league is that any team can beat any team,” the Arsenal manager said. “I lived various scenarios on the last day when a lot of teams have necessities. The margin of respect that everybody puts in the games is phenomenal. We know we need a result.

“We need to do our own thing still in the last game. But today we wanted to open that box of dreams to live the last day of the season in front of our people with the opportunity to win the Premier League. That’s something we’re going to live together and I’m so pleased we’re going do it with these players and staff.

“We really wanted to live that moment. We said: ‘Now we have to earn the right to go to the last day and live that moment.’ That’s part of our journey to have a big chance of winning the Premier League. We wanted to experience that. We’re going to have a normal preparation week to try to be in the best space to compete and beat Everton and then live the occasion as well.”

Mikel Arteta gestures
Mikel Arteta conducts his side towards their 1-0 win at Old Trafford - Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane

Arteta admitted it was a nervous afternoon against United but another example of the strides taken by his side.

“Yes [I was nervous] because at the end you know what the consequences are to draw,” he said. “We started the game well and we scored the goal but I think that goal touched something. We started to play too safe, not respecting any structure and not with enough purpose.

“I did not like it and we had to change it but we struggled to do it. If you don’t have that element to be more dominant and more present in the game you have to be extraordinarily competitive and do the defensive things right. I thought we were excellent at that today.

“Winning I think encourages you to win more and to be better equipped and better prepared and have more confidence to win in different contexts and grind results in different ways.

“Somebody told me it’s 27 wins in the Premier League. It’s the most in the history of this club in 130 years. That’s not progress, that’s history. That’s very difficult to do, especially in the league where we are playing now.”