At times, this week’s Champions League encounter between Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen was a closely fought contest. But the difference in world class quality ultimately made the contest a convincing win for David Moyes’ men in the end.
And no one was more instrumental than the rejuvenated Wayne Rooney. The player, subject of such intense media scrutiny and transfer speculation throughout the whole summer, turned in a technically peerless performance to suggest that he once again feels at home at Old Trafford. And didn’t the fans just revel in the revival of their prodigal son. He received a richly deserved and rapturous ovation when he was substituted.
Rooney’s contribution was tangible by two fine goals and an assist that capped off a wonderful individual display on a night where the England man joined an elite group of only four former players to score 200 goals or more for Manchester United.
However, it is Rooney’s intangible qualities that will be just as crucial to Manchester United as the measurable contribution of his goals and assists. He is a natural born leader, a warrior of a player who embodies passion, desire, determination and a commitment to the cause which has characterized United greats of recent times from Bobby Charlton to Roy Keane to Eric Cantona.
Yet, despite spearheading the club for the past decade to a series of titles, he still remains relatively unappreciated by some. But you can be rest assured that Robin van Persie fully appreciates his partner’s contribution. Like the fans, he too must be so relieved that Rooney is still pulling on the red shirt of Manchester United, as without him there is no one else who has the capacity to complement the genius of the Flying Dutchman. Witness the England star’s sumptuous pass for Van Persie’s goal of the season screamer against Aston Villa last season for evidence.
Like those aforementioned luminaries of United’s rich heritage, Rooney — when fit and in the right frame of mind — is the heartbeat of Manchester United’s team, the sort of player who makes the current side far greater than the sum of its parts.
Even with the addition of Marouane Felliani, United still probably have the poorest midfield out of the Premier league’s elite. A classic case in point is Tom Cleverley, who — although a solid Premier League player — would get nowhere near the starting 11 of any other top four club. Yet he almost always plays for the champions, who continue to churn out titles most seasons. This is in spite of myriad observers; including many of the clubs own fans, who regularly bemoan the squad’s lack of strength and depth and prudent transfer policy, which incidentally has allowed the club to amass a net profit of £146million from the twelve months to June.
But the sheer presence of players like Rooney rouses players like Cleverley, and the rest of his teammates, to reach a new level. The effect of a rampaging Rooney seizing the initiative and stamping his authority on big games is contagious. It serves to inspire those around him to raise their game to a level that may belie their actual ability.
This influence Rooney has on the rest of his teammates cannot be overstated, which is one of the main motives why Mourinho pursued him so relentlessly throughout the summer. The new Chelsea manager has a wealth of attacking options, whose sheer talent and ability are all pretty much on a par with England’s no. 10. But The Special One marvels in the immeasurable gifts of the precocious forward and appreciates the effect these intangible traits have on the collective morale and performance of a team.
Crucially, though, Moyes faith in the intangible worth of his 27 year old talisman, which convinced Wayne Rooney to remain at Manchester United, may in fact prove to be the most tangible difference in the title race this season.