Rooney reaches a milestone

Published : Aug 29, 2009 00:00 IST

Goalscorers always have a habit of hogging the attention and after becoming the 21st player in United’s history to score 100 or more goals for the club it was only natural that Wayne Rooney should be the centre of attention, writes Daniel Taylor.

It is one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite mantras: if you lose, it’s how you react that counts. What happened at Burnley must have made Ferguson’s teeth hurt, but it is difficult to imagine how Manchester United’s response could have been more satisfying. Michael Owen soothed his nerves with a confidence-building goal. Ditto Dimitar Berbatov. Nani’s stoppage-time free-kick made this their biggest win since January and Wayne Rooney is having o ne of those periods when he could fall into the Manchester Ship Canal and come up with a salmon in his mouth.

Goalscorers always have a habit of hogging the attention and after becoming the 21st player in United’s history to score 100 or more goals for the club it was only natural that Rooney should be the centre of attention. The most gratifying part for Ferguson, however, was that the two players whose form has become an authentic reason for concern should also score — and what that potentially means for their self-belief.

Owen had been desperately poor against Burnley, but it is amazing how a goal can have therapeutic qualities. Berbatov, too, should feel a lot better after hooking in a goal that had United’s supporters loudly singing his name rather than arguing among themselves about whether he is an able partner for Rooney. When Berbatov played in Rooney to fire in United’s third goal it was only the second time he had set him up to score since they became team-mates almost a year ago. Rooney, in turn, has created only one for Berbatov.

How that partnership develops over the next nine months, Ferguson is acutely aware, will be pivotal to United’s aspirations of keeping the Premier League trophy at Old Trafford.

As a striker in his own playing days, Ferguson is aware of the sapping effects of a bad run. Owen had not scored a competitive goal for 20 matches stretching back to January 10 and his manager said: “Strikers have to score. That’s their mantra. They think the world is at an end when they are not scoring; they think they will never score again.”

Luckily for United’s title rivals, not every defence will be as obliging as Wigan’s once Rooney had headed in Antonio Valencia’s cross for the opening goal. Until that point it had been fairly even, but Berbatov made it 2-0 shortly afterwards and when Rooney’s deflected shot made it three goals in nine minutes it must have been startling for the new Wigan manager, Roberto Martínez, to see the way his team disintegrated.

Large sections of the crowd had already started to drift away by the time Rooney was substituted by Owen. Otherwise, the crowd were sufficiently impressed and respectful to applaud Rooney off the pitch.

Yet, the real revelation was the player who is rapidly becoming United’s dynamo. Darren Fletcher was ubiquitous in midfield. There is not a single part of his game that has failed to improve. Fit again after a disrupted pre-season, Nemanja Vidic’s return also gave United’s defence a far more compact look. “We realise how badly we played at Burnley,” the defender said. “We’ve lost one of the best players in the world in Ronaldo and of course we are going to miss him. But we still have great players who can score goals.”

Owen was not willing to talk to any media other than United’s own television station. “You cane me, then you want an interview?” he asked, without breaking stride, when a variety of men with microphones approached him.

Owen believes he has been unfairly criticised, telling MUTV: “I played only an hour or so versus Burnley and had 15 to 20 minutes against Birmingham, so I hadn’t played 90 minutes in total, but a lot was still made of the fact I hadn’t scored. It was as though I hadn’t scored for a couple of years. So it was a nice feeling to score. I probably scored with the hardest chance I’ve had. I had two at Burnley and one against Birmingham, so this was only the fourth chance I’ve had in a Manchester United shirt. But you miss a couple of chances and, as ever, everyone is quick to write you off.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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