An angry Wayne Rooney was adamant last weekend that his critics in the media were trying to write his sporting obituary. On Thursday, he picked the moment to demonstrate that reports of his footballing demise had been greatly exaggerated.
With one bravura goal and another magical ‘no-look’ assist in the crucial 4-0 Europa League victory over Feyenoord at Old Trafford, England’s one-man footballing soap opera took a fresh twist after the most turbulent of weeks even by the 31-year-old’s dramatic standards.
A week earlier, Rooney had apologised for published pictures that had supposedly been taken of him while socialising among a late-night wedding party while he was on international duty as England captain.
Just a few days later following United’s game against Arsenal, though, he had sounded rather less apologetic as he launched a spirited self-defence and attacked the “disgraceful” treatment he had endured.
“It feels as if the media are trying to write my obituary and I won’t let that happen,” Rooney had said in a most uncharacteristically angry riposte. “I have not finished yet.”
It was a courageous response, especially amid widespread speculation about a career that has appeared to be fading fast but, typically, Rooney’s appetite for a good fight was evident again as he chose a crucial night at Old Trafford to produce a landmark performance.
Rooney’s magnificent dinked finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s through ball for United’s first-half opener, made him the club’s all-time leading scorer in Europe with 39 — ahead of Ruud van Nistelrooy — and put him now just one behind Sir Bobby Charlton’s overall club record of 249 goals.
His second piece of dazzling skill after the break, an incisive pass, seemingly without looking, that led to a Juan Mata tap-in, then effectively sealed United’s win on a nervy night that could have put them on the brink of a European exit if they had not prevailed.
No wonder he received a rapturous reception when he was substituted near the end, but Rooney was in no mood to suggest he had been trying to prove a point to critics.
Asked by a reporter on BT Sport if it had felt more special after all the fuss surrounding him, Rooney still sounded as miffed as he had done on Saturday as he responded: “All that’s created by people like yourself asking questions like this.
“People in the media are making a big deal over nothing. I didn’t set foot in the wedding and I think it’s a shame I have to be talking about it now after such a great victory.
“It’s a great feeling to score goals for this club. I am pleased, and there is plenty more to come.”
Even those who have been critical of some of United’s performances under Jose Mourinho, like former midfield international Paul Scholes, recognised this was time to salute the enormity of Rooney’s European milestone.
“It’s a fantastic achievement,” Scholes told BT Sport. “Everyone inside this club knows how special he is.”