Blog originally published on July 15...
We've all seen the photos of Wayne Rooney in the newspapers, squeezed into his United shirt for the friendly up in Aberdeen, along with all the usual 'fat' puns in the headlines and comparisons with other generously proportioned footballers.
Poor Wayne. He's the type of person who is liable to put weight on without too much effort. His body shape will not allow him to do as he pleases and he's one of those players who simply cannot afford to let himself go.
But that is what he has done this summer - he has been pictured smoking fags, eating fast food and drinking pints of lager. Make no mistake, he's enjoyed himself during the off season, but now he has to show a willingness to work hard in training if he is to get himself back into shape before the big kick-off.
He's not alone in having more to do than most in pre-season training. Eric Cantona was a big lad and used to put on weight over the summer, although probably not through drinking too much lager.
But Eric came back in July and worked incredibly hard to get back into shape, so when the season started he was once again at his peak.
That's exactly what Wayne has to do. Forget about how he looked against Aberdeen - something has been made out of that purely because there were television cameras at Pittodrie - his deadline is August 17. And only then will we be able to judge him.
How he looks when he runs out of the Old Trafford tunnel to face Newcastle will tell us a great deal about how much pride he has in himself.
And if he's in good shape, then all the flak he has taken can be shoved right back down the throats of his critics.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of Rooney's weight gain has been the speed with which he has put it on. The off-season is getting shorter and shorter every year, and this time round he's had barely two months to lose his shape.
Yet he's managed it, with a worrying degree of ease. He must have worked hard at his eating and drinking.
Old pros used to tell me to enjoy the summer and take a complete break from football and the health regime that comes with it, but the body needs to be worked every couple of days.
It's easy to say now, but if I had my time again, I'd work on my fitness more over the summer, if only to make the return to training that little bit easier.
The first session back is a moment every footballer dreads. No matter how prepared you are, that first day can make you physically sick.
We used to get sent out on long runs and sometimes never saw a ball for two weeks as the coaches concentrated solely on our fitness levels.
Of course nowadays they do a lot more ball work but still, there can be few players out there who actually look forward to the prospect of pre-season training.
Certainly, it would not surprise me if Wayne Rooney was slightly apprehensive on his own return.
- Wayne Rooney
- Eric Cantona