Fleck offers ray of hope to Rooney

Norwich City legend Robert Fleck today kept the dream alive for England fans - insisting there's every chance that Wayne Rooney could recover from his fractured metatarsal in time for the World Cup finals.

Norwich City legend Robert Fleck today kept the dream alive for England fans - insisting there's every chance that Wayne Rooney could recover from his fractured metatarsal in time for the World Cup finals.

And Fleck should know as he underwent the same kind of rehabilitation - in an oxygen tent - when he broke his rib ahead of the Canaries' FA Cup semi-final clash against Sunderland in 1992.

Fleck made it back for that game under the guidance of pioneering City physio Tim Sheppard, who was the first person to use the technique 14 years ago.

“It certainly worked for me,” said Fleck, who represented Scotland in the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy. “It really helped to increase the blood flow around my ribs and, who knows, it could work for Rooney too.

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“I don't know much about how it might affect the blood flow around his feet but I'm sure it will increase and certainly speed up the recovery process.”

As for sleeping in the oxygen tent, Fleck was not so sure.

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“I certainly never slept in it. I think that's just one or two people getting a bit carried away. When I used it, which is 12 or 13 years ago now I was allowed to be in the chamber for only 45 minutes at a time.”

At the same time, Fleck also sounded a note of caution, admitting he thinks it would be a “big, big gamble” to take Rooney if he has not fully recovered, and one that Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson is unlikely to take a chance on.

“There's no doubt that this is a serious injury for Rooney and it's not one that heals quickly. It's the second time that it's happened to him and he took a long time to comeback after that one,” said Fleck, who with 84 goals in 299 games is City's fourth highest goalscorer of all time.

“It would be a big, big gamble to send him but Alex Ferguson will certainly be looking after Rooney's interests and that of Manchester United's.”

Fleck knows exactly what the pull of the World Cup is like, especially for someone as young as Rooney and understands the frustrations the teenage striker must be going through.

“Rooney will want to play if there is even a small chance,” he said. “He's young and will be full of enthusiasm to play in his first World Cup. He probably thinks, like everybody has been saying, that this is England's best chance of winning the World Cup since 1966 and will want to be part of it.

“To be honest, I'm not sure that Alex Ferguson will let him go. Rooney will realise in time that it may be not the right decision to go and look to the long term. Man U will have the first and last say about it, that's for sure.”

Fleck added: “Rooney will have the chance to play in future World Cups.

“It will be a shame if he is not fit as I think it was not just English fans who were looking forward to seeing him play on such a stage but also fans around the world.

“He showed glimpses at Euro 2004 but unfortunately he looks like he'll be denied the chance to build on that again.

“It will be interesting to see who steps up now for England. Until now Rooney has had to handle all the pressure but now that will fall on someone else.”

Doctors at the private Bupa hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, are working against the clock to ensure Rooney recovers in time from his foot injury to play some part in the tournament.

The player himself went there when he broke his fifth metatarsal while playing for England at Euro 2004 in Portugal.

Rooney is believed to be under the care of consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ashok Paul, the Madras-trained specialist who treated David Beckham for his foot injury before the last World Cup in 2002.

It took Beckham seven weeks to return and, although he played in the tournament, he was never fully fit.

Another player to have turned to the hospital is England striker Michael Owen. The Newcastle player had a metal pin inserted into a foot after another metatarsal injury at the beginning of January. He has only just started playing again.

United's captain Gary Neville and midfielder Paul Scholes have also been treated at the hospital for similar foot injuries.

An oxygen tent being used by Wayne Rooney to help him recover from his injury could soon be banned and classified in the same category as taking anabolic steroids and other performance- enhancing drugs.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is this weekend meeting to discuss artificially induced hypoxic conditions, like the one being used by the England striker, and may add it to its next list of prohibited substances and methods, due in October.

David Beckham used a similar tent before the 2002 World Cup to speed his recovery after fracturing a bone in his left foot. There is evidence that sleeping in a sealed, low-oxygen environment, simulating the effect of high altitude, maintains fitness while an injury heals.

If Wada makes the method illegal then hypoxic chambers - a sealed unit with reduced levels of oxygen in which athletes exercise and which are popular with many Premiership clubs, including Manchester United - would also be banned.

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