There was plenty written about David Moyes’ lack of Champions League experience before their group opener against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday, but in the end the worries were unfounded as Manchester United cruised to a comfortable 4-2 win at Old Trafford. United put in their best performance of the season so far, showing a fluidity and ingenuity that has been so conspicuous by its absence in the last few weeks. The undisputed man of the match was – you’ve guessed it – that man Wayne Rooney.
Rooney was everywhere against Leverkusen, and his two goals and assist showed United fans that the 27-year old really is back to his best. Rooney’s second goal – a delightful curled finish – took his United tally to 200, fourth on the all-time Manchester United scoring records. It said much that the man thought to be dispensable by plenty of United fans this summer proved to be the engine by which the team ran – his clever movement and range of passing bamboozling Leverkusen defenders and midfielders all evening.
One might think that Rooney’s effervescent performance will finally put to bed the rumours that the Croxteth-born goalscorer is not happy in Manchester, but in a post match interview with ITV, the rumours were very much fueled once more as Rooney declined to answer a direct question regarding his happiness at Old Trafford. Instead of answering that question, Rooney focused on the fact that he has kept his head down and worked hard all summer, but if the England star was happy and settled at Old Trafford, would this not have been the ideal time to say just that?
Chelsea’s interest in the player has been well documented, and although Jose Mourinho failed in his pursuit of Rooney during the last transfer window, it is speculated that the Portuguese maestro is still very keen on procuring Rooney’s services at a later date. Mourinho has a paucity of striking options at Stamford Bridge: a misfiring Fernando Torres and Demba Ba and an ageing Samuel Eto’o, and it seems likely that Chelsea will be back to test United’s resolve in the future.
It may well be that Rooney still wants to leave and has his heart set on a Chelsea move in January or next summer – and this would explain his inability to confirm his happiness at Old Trafford. Rooney’s contract is due to expire in the summer of 2015, and United may well be forced to sell him next summer as the alternative could be the loss of his services for nothing the year after. Given that Samuel Eto’o has only signed a one-year contract at Chelsea, it seems likely that Mourinho is hoping Rooney will remain discontent at Old Trafford and will agitate for a move next summer; by which time United’s hands would be tied.
The trouble for United is that they will struggle to replace the considerable talent of the No.10, and Rooney’s performance against Leverkusen will have reminded United fans that when he is on song, there are few players that can do what he does. During the summer lull, it was perhaps easy for United fans and indeed David Moyes to devalue what Rooney brings to the table, but after his stellar performance on Tuesday, few would regard him as anything other than indispensable. This realisation though, may well be too late, and if Rooney – as expected – refuses to sign a contract extension, his departure will come as a significant blow to Moyes’ side.