Being crowned the world's best would, for some players, be their ultimate ambition. Individual accolades might produce greater satisfaction than team medals. Not for Wayne Rooney. A shrug of the shoulders and a sheepish grin was the response to the suggestion that he was now considered No 1 - ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"It's nice to hear people talk about you like that," he said. "If it happens [winning an individual award], I'd be delighted, but it's not a major thing for me." Rio Ferdinand, his Manchester United teammate, was one to offer a latest perspective on the debate and, for him, there was no doubt about Rooney's standing in the game. "He's the best player in the world at the moment on current form," said the England captain.
"I don't think there's anyone near him. It's as simple as that." A run of 14 goals in the last 11 games has elevated his reputation. But Rooney does not just perform on the big occasion, like he did in the Carling Cup final against Aston Villa or the Champions League last-16 ties with AC Milan. He has the same motivation for today's Premier League game against Fulham, a game United expect to win comfortably. Rooney wants to play in every match no matter how important it is.
He reached 30 goals for the season in the 4-0 win over AC Milan to take United into the Champions League quarter-finals, but trophies matter more than statistics. In opposition, David Beckham watched in awe, and, as an England teammate, he has knowledge of Rooney's qualities. "He is an exceptional talent," said Beckham. "The personal awards will come without a doubt if he keeps performing the way he is. You ask him about that and he's not bothered as long as the team are winning.
"Every team tries to stop him, but sometimes it's impossible." United and England hope that remains the case. Rooney is integral to the fortunes of both and he has a point to prove at this summer's World Cup after injury affected him at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. "I hope people will see the real Wayne Rooney [this time]," he warned. "It's not nice to be injured and hopefully I can stay fit until the end of the season. I'll be ready for the World Cup."
Ferdinand has the same target after his back problems. As he and Nemanja Vidic helped thwart Milan, it was a reminder of just how strong United are defensively with the pair in tandem. At Fulham last December, United had Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick, both midfielders, standing in at the back and they could not cope with Bobby Zamora as the champions were well-beaten 3-0. "It will be a different team that plays in this match so hopefully we'll give them a different type of game at home," said Ferdinand.
"We've got an air of confidence about us at the moment. Wazza [Rooney] is on fire, Antonio Valencia's on fire and the midfielders backing them up are doing really well. So when the majority of your team are seven or eight out of 10 [for performances], we're very confident we should win games." firstname.lastname@example.org