The Missing Link; No Rooney, No Spark ... and Scholes Is Sent Off

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A PROUD night for South Korea was rather more embarrassing for Paul Scholes and all but one member of a mediocre Manchester United side.

If the sight of Ji-Sung Park wearing the captain's armband sparked a wave of excitement in Seoul, those here in Salford were left to reflect on the dismissal of Scholes and a dismal United performance.

In the absence of the inspirational Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson's side were impotent against a Lille team who also struggled to raise their game. No urgency, n o conviction, no creative drive and, as a result, no goals.

Just like an England team who remain convinced they can win next summer's World Cup, United now look increasingly to Rooney for inspiration.

Scholes did his best to fill the void, following the temperamental teenager's example and becoming the second United player this season to be sent off in the Champions League. But Scholes has lost the magician's touch.

The magic is inside Rooney, the member of the 'Three Rs' trio - along with Ronaldo and Ruud - who provides the razzmatazz.

According to Ferguson, United now have more chance of lifting the European Cup than they do the Premier League trophy. But even Ferguson must realise that only with Rooney on the field will such success be possible.

United's supporters already seem to think so, the 7,000 empty seats last night a result, presumably, of the red card Rooney received for taunting referee Kim Milton Nielsen at Villarreal last month. No Rooney means not half as much entertainment.

Others were missed, too - the leadership of Roy Keane and Gary Neville; the class of Gabriel Heinze. But it is Rooney who breathes life into a stuttering United; Rooney who keeps the devil in the red half of Manchester.

Against a Lille side short of confidence as well as Champions League points, a Lille side still without a goal after three Group D games, United looked lost without the preciously-gifted youngster.

Ryan Giggs went closest to breaking the deadlock, sending a freekick against a post before a wild elbow left him nursing a fractured cheekbone.

Last night, Ferguson pointed the finger of suspicion at Lille's Efstathios Tavlaridis. A former Arsenal player, Ferguson no doubt noted.

As much of a concern to Ferguson must be the form of Rio Ferdinand, a [pounds sterling]30million defender who appears to think a [pounds sterling]120,000a-week contract makes him invincible.

That, as Sven Goran Eriksson has already concluded, is simply not the case. Far too casual in his approach to the role of a centre half, Ferdinand has become a liability.

It was because of Ferdinand that Lille went close to scoring last night, a lapse in concentration causing him to under-club a header that was intended for Edwin van der Sar but fell instead to Peter Odemwingie. …