The doors to the most exclusive of private parties were finally opened on Tuesday night. After 15 years on the touchline and 431 Premier League games at the helm, David Moyes managed in the Champions League last night and Manchester United managed to give him a winning start.
Indeed, they delivered in style. As Bayer Leverkusen were overcome, Robin van Persie scored another to add to his collection of fine volleys and Wayne Rooney produced two that brought him a double century of United goals. It is a feat only previously recorded by Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Jack Rowley, a rarity that gives it a statistical significance.
More importantly, United travel to Ukraine in two weeks for a potentially tricky tie against Shakhtar Donetsk with three points in the bag and enter Sunday’s Manchester derby with back-to-back victories under their belt and their strikers scoring.
Since his flirtation with Chelsea, Rooney has been reintegrated into the fold and is showing signs of returning to his best form. While his goals sandwiched a glaring miss, when he robbed Omer Toprak, rounded Bernd Leno and shot across the face of an unguarded net, he brought up a landmark in enviable fashion.
He had the confidence to whip a shot past Leto at his near post and, in the process, ensure there was to be no upset.
Leverkusen had levelled after his opening goal, albeit without warning. Their only previous shot of note, from Sidney Sam, had been directed straight at David de Gea. Yet when Simon Rolfes bent an effort back inside the Spaniard’s post with exquisite precision, frustration beckoned for United.
Instead they produced the right sort of response. Antonio Valencia surged clear on the right and crossed. Van Persie adjusted his body and connected with a technically superb volley, even if Leno should have made a better fist of his attempted saved.
After Rooney doubled his tally for the night – improbably, and in an indictment of the Leverkusen defending, De Gea got the assist – Valencia added a fourth, drilling in a low shot after being teed up, inevitably, by the striker.
So Moyes’ big night had a happy conclusion for the Scot. A theme of United’s season has been that this is a new era. That is especially true in continental competition; this was their first European Cup game under anyone other than Sir Alex Ferguson since the 1969 semi-final against AC Milan, overseen by Sir Matt Busby. Now Moyes is in select company, alongside only the two managerial knights.
It was the end of a long wait for Moyes; his Everton team finished fourth and reached the playoff before the group stages in 2005, but his Champions League debut has been delayed.
So, too, that of Marouane Fellaini, who made his first start after his £27.5 million (Dh160.6m) move from Everton.
There are signs of a burgeoning understanding with his new teammates and, as Fellaini dovetailed neatly with Michael Carrick, it appeared a partnership in the making.
Yet he was not the headline inclusion. Moyes belatedly turned to the underused Shinji Kagawa, albeit fielding him on the left flank. Indeed Rooney’s central role in the Scot’s plans was illustrated as he occupied Kagawa’s preferred position and for the second time in the space of four days the Englishman illustrated why Moyes deems him so pivotal.
After opening his account for the season against Crystal Palace on Saturday, his second of the campaign followed three days later. Patrice Evra crossed from the left flank and Rooney’s volley bounced into the Old Trafford turf and then up and over Leno.
Leverkusen’s complaints that Valencia was offside or that he backed into Leno, were overlooked. Like Palace at the weekend, they conceded with a sense of injustice.
Yet United’s convincing win meant Leverkusen could have few grounds for complaint at the result. If anything, they were flattered by the score Toprak’s late consolation goal gave them.