Bad boy battle - Rooney v Cole

2011-02-28 23:12

London - One is accused of accidentally shooting a young intern with an air rifle. The other is under fire for elbowing an opponent in the head.

Despite the latest incidents that have further tarnished their reputations, Chelsea defender Ashley Cole and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney have been cleared to play on Tuesday in one of the most highly anticipated games of the Premier League season.

While Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti accepts Cole "stepped over the line" in accidentally shooting an intern at the team's training ground eight days ago, a fine is the harshest punishment facing the defender.

Rooney can play after The Football Association conceded it was powerless to ban him for elbowing a Wigan player in an off-the-ball incident on Saturday's league match.

The transgressions have raised fresh questions about players' conduct on and off the pitch and the lack of desire to ensure they face stricter punishments.

Ancelotti insisted there was "no way" Cole would be fired after the left back played around with a .22 air gun and accidentally left sports sciences student Tom Cowan - who is on a one-year internship at Chelsea - wounded and bleeding .

Chelsea had hoped the incident would never be made public, with the details only emerging in the News of the World tabloid on Sunday exactly a week after the shooting.

Even after the front-page story was published, Chelsea stressed that despite the severity of the incident it wouldn't comment on an "internal matter," dismissing it in the same tone as transfer speculation.

Even on Monday, Ancelotti stressed that Cole "always had very good behavior here."

"Who didn't make a mistake in his life?" the Italian asked reporters. "The mistake was that the gun was here in Cobham. We didn't know the gun was here ... (the) players aren't out of control."

Despite Ancelotti praising Cole, the air rifle incident last Sunday is not the first time Cole has attracted negative publicity.

While few doubt his abilities on the pitch - the 30-year-old Cole is the England national team's most-capped fullback - he has been criticised for poor conduct on the pitch and cheating on his pop star wife Cheryl Cole.

"Obviously, we are not happy with what happened, but I have spoken with him," Ancelotti said. "He was very disappointed with this, and said sorry. It was an accident. We have taken proper action but tomorrow he will play."

Ancelotti can't afford to drop Cole, with Chelsea in danger of missing out on the Champions League places as it sits in fifth place and 15 points adrift of leader United.

"It is a very important game for the futures of Manchester United and Chelsea," Ancelotti said. "It will not be easy because Manchester United has until now been the best team in the Premier League. It is very difficult for us to close this gap ... and to come back. Manchester United can decide its destiny."

And as United heads toward a record-breaking 19th English title, a siege mentality exists at Old Trafford.

While Cole accidentally discharged a lead pellet, United manager Alex Ferguson is figuratively shooting the messenger over the Rooney incident.

"As it is Wayne, the press will raise a campaign to get him hung or electrocuted, something like that," Ferguson told United's in-house television channel.

Referee Mark Clattenburg didn't book Rooney on Saturday for taking a swipe at the back of James McCarthy's head after the Wigan midfielder had appeared set to block his run.

The body that manages referees in England defended Clattenburg's decision.

"Match officials are trained to prioritize following the ball, as that's where the greater majority of incidents are going to take place," Professional Game Match Officials general manager Mike Riley said.

"In this incident Mark was following play but caught sight of two players coming together and he awarded a free kick because he believed one player had impeded the other.

"We should be clear that Mark did nothing wrong in officiating this incident as he acted on what he saw on the pitch."

FIFA rules prevent the FA from retrospectively imposing a stern sanction on Rooney after reviewing video evidence, but that hasn't stopped the striker's temperament being condemned - and not for the first time.

It has been a lackluster injury-plagued season for the 25-year-old Rooney on the pitch. And he was kept out of the team after being accused of cheating on his then-pregnant wife with prostitutes.