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Wayne Rooney still has a leading role to play at Manchester United

Robin van Persie may now be the star name, but the Old Trafford forward stole the show against Manchester City, says Richard Jolly.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores the second goal to make the score 0-2 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** 158022289.jpg
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores the second goal to make the score 0-2 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** 158022289.jpg

It was the day Hollywood came to Manchester, a day when very different universes met and when, not for the first time, footballing fact proved more compelling than film's fiction.

As Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall dropped in on the derby, they witnessed, references to Mission: Impossible and Top Gun were frequent.

Yet what they witnessed was both Wayne's World and a Manchester United Batman who tends to be overshadowed by his resident Robin.

It was Robin van Persie who delivered the injury-time drama, scoring the goal that defeated Manchester City. Yet it is Wayne Rooney who is derby royalty. As the balance of power in Manchester changed, he leapfrogged Sir Bobby Charlton. A brace means the No 10 now has 10 derby goals, the most by a Manchester United player in the match-up's history.

The other Old Trafford greats, from Billy Meredith to Cristiano Ronaldo, trail in his wake. None has tormented their nearest quite so often. "He'll let us know about it," said Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rooney has something to brag about. And yet it was entirely in keeping with his season that even when recording a historic achievement, he was upstaged. He has ceded top billing at Old Trafford to Van Persie this year and it was the Dutchman who supplied the final drama to the derby. His 92nd-minute winner was a remarkable end to an extraordinary game.

This was another of the goals that were guaranteed when United signed the City target.

"Van Persie scores against every team," sighed Roberto Mancini, who had hoped to buy the Dutchman so he did that in City blue.

Instead, in United red, he mustered an 11th in the league, worth 16 points between them, to maintain his prolific return.

Yet while allying Rooney with Van Persie seemed a recipe for goals, England's top two scorers last season have endured contrasting campaigns.

Kindred spirits and class acts they both are but, while the Dutchman has delivered consistently, the Englishman has spent time everywhere except on the scoresheet: on the left and right flanks, dropping deeper and sitting on the sidelines.

Selection in the stiffs against Cluj seemed a form of punishment, especially when Rooney was below par. Ferguson seemed to view it as question of sharpness. Hindsight lends it a different perspective; this was the ideal build-up.

Two examples of clinical, composed finishing indicated a player at his peak. Rooney is fighting fit. He has always scored in spurts and, after a brace at Reading last week, he appears on another.

He roamed and rampaged with menace, finding space between the City midfield and defence. This was brain and brawn, muscular football played intelligently.

It was a reminder of the Rooney who became the country's most coveted player, not the man shunted out to the flanks to accommodate Van Persie and, at times, Javier Hernandez.

Now he stands apart in a local rivalry. Pre-eminent in one respect, his place in the pantheon is a matter for debate in others.

Already United's fourth highest scorer, Rooney has a statistical case for greatness - or he will when his career ends, anyway - but there are those who will argue that potential remains unrealised.

Perhaps only in his golden year of 2009/10 has he belonged in the world's top 10 players. Some would say excitement has been traded for efficiency. Yet none are more consistent in this clash.

While City seemed his likeliest destination when Rooney submitted a transfer request at United in October 2010, they retain the unfortunate capacity to bring the best from him.

His 2011 overhead kick was voted the greatest goal in Premier League history. A January double eliminated City from the FA Cup. And, in the process, another derby destroyer was cast in a different light.

Mario Balotelli was United's tormentor-in-chief when City won 6-1 at Old Trafford last season.

Thirteen months on, he was substituted and scolded. "Mario can't continue to throw his quality out of the window," said Mancini. "I love Mario like a guy, and also like a player, but I think it is important for him to start to think about his job if he wants to play well. He can't continue to play like this."

Balotelli, of course, is accustomed to the role of villain the visiting Americans would understand.

The hero, too, forms a staple part of the plot. But this was the sort of drama Hollywood struggles to rival.

"Intensity, passion, competitiveness, everything was there," Ferguson said. "It was really fantastic. You couldn't take your eyes off it today, it was so engrossing."

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