Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney wants fans to remember him as a winner

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney all smiles during the training session at the AON Training Complex, Manchester
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney all smiles during the training session at the AON Training Complex, Manchester

The rules of engagement were that last night's press conference must be about Manchester United's imminent European engagement, rather than their most highly paid player, but Wayne Rooney did not seem to mind the rules being broken.

In 15 minutes of conversation, give or take, he ranged from an analysis of Bayern Munich at Arsenal ("perfect"), and Barcelona at Manchester City ("incredible") to the question of how he would want to be remembered.

The impression that you took away was of a player yearning to cut it with that elite again, as he did on that wet spring night in Moscow, six years ago. He laughed a little self-consciously when he was asked whether his record of one winner's and two runners-up medals was enough for him – a leading question for sure – but there was sentiment in his reply.

"To win one is never enough," he said. "The feeling you get as a player when you win those finals is incredible so there's no way you'd want to stop at one..."

You also envisaged him sitting in front of the TV set at home in Prestbury, mentally calculating what his part would have been in the two Champions League games he watched flourishing last week, especially Bayern's win at Arsenal.

"The way they keep the ball and open teams up is great to watch," he said. "We have to go and try to do that – try and keep the ball, be patient and break teams down. A lot of teams we are playing are sitting back with all the team (behind the ball)."

The notion of United matching what Bayern accomplished at the Emirates seems incredibly remote, given that a goalless draw there a few days before the Germans' arrival was an achievement in this desperate season.

Yet Rooney knows that there is another way to progress in Europe. How could he not, being from a city to drenched in the memory of what Rafael Benitez's side achieved in Istanbul in 2005? The achievements of Roberto di Matteo's side in the face of Barcelona, seven years later, are vivid, too.

The European seedings, weighed as they are in favour of the Champions League established heavyweights, served United a group they could win, and a subsequent round of 16 game they should win.

This careworn, graffiti strewn city is looking for heroes of its own, too. The bronze statue of a juggling player outside the stadium entrance is of no one in particular but they have decorated out the interior of the place with new facilities and a montage of a half century of European night, including the Champions League quarter final they reached in 1999.

"The time has come for us," said the midfielder Giannis Maniatis and though the words of their manager, Michel, were being translated from Spanish, into Greek, into English, they did seem to be invested with bite.

The side are missing only Javier Saviola, out with a thigh injury. The segment of the stadium where an SS banner was displayed during the Anderlecht game in December has been closed as a UEFA sanction outlawing racism, though only the stadium will be only 2,000 lighter. There will still be a wall of noise.

The odds are stacked against United making this season the one which will be remembered for European glory amid domestic distress. Rooney talked meaningfully about things picking up. But we have been here too many times this season, expecting the trigger point from which United don't look back. For as long as there's light there is hope when the knockout games come around, though. The bookmakers evidently believe in them – slating Rooney and his band as fourth favourites behind Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

For Rooney, 29 this autumn and notionally committed to this club for the rest of his career, the need to retain that link to the past, while a United future is built, seems even greater.

"As a winner," is how he wanted to be remembered, he said. "I think every player wants to win and I'm no different. At Man United that's what we aim to do – win trophies. That's what you'll be judged on when you've finished your career – not just me but the whole team."

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