Oliver Holt's Big Match Verdict: Rooney has the last laugh as Dalglish defends his cameo against Liverpool
Kenny Dalglish likes to keep a withering smile in reserve at all times.
On Saturday, the Liverpool boss saved it for a question about Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United striker had capped a challenging 10 days by finding himself on the bench at Anfield. And when he did make it on to the pitch 20 minutes from time, he was played in central midfield.
“Who’s the Scouser in the wig?”, the Kop sang at the sight of his increasingly generous thatch but Rooney kept control of what was going on in his mind and played a fine cameo.
The idea that Rooney might be moved away from the forward position where he has established himself as one of the world’s leading players brought out that scathing grin in Dalglish.
“I think Wayne Rooney could be a goalkeeper if he wanted to be,” Dalglish said.
He said Sir Alex Ferguson had only moved Rooney so he could accommodate Javier Hernandez up front as United chased an equaliser.
By then, he had probably found out about the complaints United had made about Luis Suarez so he had other things on his mind but he was still keen to point out he had always been an admirer of Rooney.
Dalglish was a sublime forward himself and a clinical goalscorer. He knows quality when he sees it.
And as United’s talisman battles adversity yet again, Dalglish’s message was that Rooney could be anything he wanted to be. His assessment made a welcome change to the apocalyptic visions of Rooney’s future circulating since was sent off against Montenegro.
Rooney’s behaviour was foolish but Uefa’s decision to ban him for the first three games of Euro 2012 did not fit the crime. It seemed almost as petty and vindictive as Rooney’s 73rd-minute kick at Miodrag Dzudovic which turned his world upside down again.
Rooney was apparently so upset by the decision that Sir Alex decided the combination of his dismay and a hostile Anfield was a toxic recipe.
“Wayne’s had a bad week,” said Sir Alex. “He was devastated at the suspension. I just felt he’d be better starting on the bench.” There is a precedent for Fergie’s move. He left Rooney out of the United squad altogether for a game at Goodison Park 13 months ago after the striker’s personal life hit the headlines.
And even though it was strange to see Rooney, Hernandez and Nani sat on the bench, it made sense to spare them Anfield’s febrile atmosphere.
Gary Neville pointed out afterwards that Ferguson looks at matches in ‘pockets’ and in the next seven days United face a crucial Champions League tie against SC Otelul Galati in Romania and the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
Of those three, the match against Liverpool may be the biggest in terms of history but it was also the least important.
That was why, when Rooney took to Twitter on Saturday night, his interpretation of his exclusion from the side was that he had been rested.
It was one of those occasions when both he and Fergie were right. Rooney was rested but he was rested because it was also expedient for him not to start at Anfield until some of the heat had gone from the occasion.
Not that it stopped him charging into the thick of the battle. In the dying minutes, as Liverpool pressed for a winner, Suarez rose ready to nod the ball past David De Gea.
Rooney appeared from nowhere and leapt higher to head clear. The Scouser and his ‘wig’ had the last laugh.