“Stunning” is how Sir Alex Ferguson described it.
“Fantastic” was the verdict from his opposite number, Roberto Mancini.
And the man whose piece of acrobatic ingenuity settled Saturday’s Manchester derby announced it as “definitely the best goal I’ve scored.”
Coming from Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, the architect behind such famous works of art as those against Newcastle in 2005 and Middlesbrough in 2006, that is a weighty claim indeed. Although, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with him, especially when considering how significant the goal could be for both the title race and the future of the goalscorer.
Set in the context of a result which effectively reduced Manchester City to also-rans this season, the goal takes on a greater significance than any of his previous spectacular efforts.
In terms of invention, technique and execution, it is also rival to any of his previous efforts, so Rooney is well within his rights to make such a claim.
However, perhaps the most amazing thing about it was that the United man was able to pull off such a manoeuvre given his current malaise.
Rooney’s season has been characterized by inconsistency in his general performances and well below-par form in front of goal. There have been occasions, most notably for England in September’s Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland, when he has looked the same player who terrorized defences at home and in Europe during the last campaign.
Yet, too often he has flattered to deceive.
Flashes of brilliance have been interspersed with periods of dross. He is perhaps lucky that Dimitar Berbatov, with 19 league goals, has taken up the slack during this rough patch, else his place could be under imminent threat from the precocious Javier Hernandez.
Were United not top of the league, it is likely that Ferguson would have been unable to indulge his star man for as long as he has.
Rooney’s problems this season are not the result of a crisis of confidence. Saturday was not the first time this season that he has attempted the sublime, just the first time that he has succeeded. Players short of confidence do not attempt overhead kicks in a local derby, particularly with such conviction.
The problem has been even more fundamental than that—Rooney appeared to have fallen out of love with the game.
Never before in his career has Rooney had such a combination of negative factors affect him as he has experienced since March 2010.
First, there was the niggling ankle injury suffered against Bayern Munich, of which he was still suffering in the first few months of this season. His United team then relinquished their Premier League crown to Chelsea, whilst simultaneously failing to win either the FA Cup or Champions League to compensate.
He was rushed back, clearly unfit, to participate in a disastrous World Cup campaign with England, where he had an extremely public spat with the supporters.
Entering this campaign he was experiencing considerable, albeit self-inflicted, personal strife following an extra-marital affair. And finally, perhaps the most damaging of all was his unpleasant transfer wrangle and subsequent impact on his relationship with the fans and Sir Alex.
Considering all this, it is easy to understand why Rooney has become so disillusioned with the sport he once played with such innocent exuberance. He has uncovered ills in the game where he once found only pleasure and fulfilment.
This season he has looked disinterested, unwilling to track back for the team like he once did and unable to lead the line effectively to compensate.
The big question now for fans of both United and England is whether this goal will spark Rooney's rejuvenation, or if it is just another false dawn.
Every time he has scored so far this season it has been proclaimed as the catalyst for a run of goals that have failed to materialize. It is tempting to write this off as yet another of those moments, but the unique circumstances surrounding the goal itself suggest that may not be the case.
His joy at scoring was uncontrollable—the celebration a cathartic outpouring of self-affirmation. It was almost as if he was declaring to the Old Trafford crowd: “I’m back.”
He could still not suppress his delight by the time the post-match interviews came around, leading to his giddy appraisal of the goal.
Perhaps now, with United looking like strong favourites for the title and challenging to repeat their Treble of 1999, Rooney will rekindle his burning fire and passion. United need him if they’re to have any chance in Europe, especially with doubts over Berbatov’s application in the biggest games.
But even more, Rooney needs the future challenges United will provide him with to rediscover the player he once was.
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