London – When he walked on to the surface at Old Trafford, his name reverberated around the stadium like never before.
“Rooney, Rooney,” they sang from every area and it wasn’t long before 2,900 Chelsea supporters in the corner between the old Scoreboard End and the main stand joined in.
“Wayne Rooney, we’ll see you next week”, was booming out from the travelling hordes, rising off their £45 seats and pointing to United’s No 10.
Respect. That’s what five Barclays Premier League titles, a Champions League medal and 197 goals as a Manchester United player has earned Wayne Rooney.
They still love him, despite his best effort to leave the home of the champions to join Jose Mourinho after nine years at the Theatre of Dreams.
He was in his element, the link man behind Robin van Persie after being picked to start for the first time since United’s clash with Arsenal last April.
There were traces of the old magic. The touch and then the pass with the outside of his boot into the path of Patrice Evra racing down United’s left could be put on replay again and again.
At times the touches were tantalising, just as they were at the Liberty Stadium when he came on as a substitute for United on the opening day of the season.
Then he created two goals, earning a pat on the back from his manager David Moyes when he walked off the pitch following their 4-1 victory.
On Monday night he was a starter, back in the team and itching to get on the ball.
That’s when Rooney oozes class, swivelling in tight spaces and underlining his ability – as if it was needed – in front of England’s manager Roy Hodgson.
He was scampering after everything, chasing lost causes and even clipping the heels of his pal Ashley Cole when they clattered into each other in the opening exchange.
What a change from the sour-faced striker who sat out Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game at Old Trafford after his ‘did he? – didn’t he?’ transfer request.
Back in May he was forced on to the pitch to accept his Premier League title winners medal and listen to Fergie’s farewell speech on the pitch at Old Trafford.
He was suffering then and there was more to come in the post-match interview when Ferguson confirmed that the United forward had asked to leave.
There was some of the Rooney United fans fell in love with when he joined back in 2004, brushing off the ‘ahhs’ from the stands when his careless clipped ball around the corner arrived at Cole’s feet.
Mourinho nodded, approving of the misplaced pass in an area of the pitch when Rooney can inflict some real damage on teams.
Chelsea’s manager has never made any secret of his intentions, bidding twice for the striker and promising a third after this compelling fixture.
It was eyes down, a night to keep a careful watch on the two No 10s at the heart of one of the biggest sub-plots in the history of these two great clubs.
Mourinho dropped Juan Mata, leaving him on the bench following his dismal performance against Aston Villa last Wednesday.
The Chelsea manager insists he will not be sold – “not a chance” – but they always say that these days, don’t they? Last season Mata won the Player of the Year award, the Players’ Player of the Year and made his way into the PFA team of the year after scoring 12 Premier League goals and creating 15.
But Mourinho doesn’t fancy him and the No 10 shirt could still be available before the transfer window closes on Monday.
All the Chelsea suits were in attendance, with chairman Bruce Buck, chief executive Ron Gourlay, secretary Dave Barnard and technical director Michael Emenalo sitting together in the directors’ box.
They were drooling in the second half with the twist and turn on the edge of the box, the pass for Danny Welbeck that the young United forward wasted.
Rooney was at his best, ruthless and destructive in equal measure. Mourinho insists the bid for him will be “ethical”, but there was nothing principled about his attempt to destabilise United’s preparations.
This is how Chelsea’s manager operates, using every little trick in the book as he seeks an advantage over his main rivals.
We are accustomed to it and English football has learned to accept it, no matter how cringeworthy Mourinho can be at times.
That is his game and no doubt another one would have been played out as he shared a glass of wine with Moyes in the manager’s office at Old Trafford afterwards.
Ultimately, though, it would have been impossible to ignore the biggest name in English football. – Daily Mail