He remains the most accomplished footballer in Manchester and last weekend his two goals edged him past the tally of Old Trafford legend George Best. Intriguingly, though, Wayne Rooney also remains the English player most coveted by Manchester City.
This week — in an interview in France — Roberto Mancini described Rooney as a ‘champion’. What he didn’t say, though, was that he would very much like him to be his champion. City’s efforts to prise Rooney from their neighbours United may have failed two autumns ago but he remains very much on their radar.
Neither club will ever talk officially about how close Rooney came to leaving Old Trafford for the Etihad Stadium when he deliberated over signing a new contract at United at the start of last season. Suffice to say, though, that at one stage City thought they were extremely close to landing him.
Last summer, too, another move for Rooney was discussed around the City boardroom table and, given the slightest encouragement from the England striker’s camp, the world’s richest football club would be back.
Asked earlier this season where Rooney would play in a team so full of offensive talent, one well-placed City source said: ‘It doesn’t matter. We would get him in the team. Every week.’
It is easy to understand why Mancini covets Rooney so much.
While City’s season has wobbled and swayed in recent weeks — prior to three recent victories they had taken only five points from five games — the Italian has missed a player of Rooney’s character, a footballer who brings more to a team than his ability.
At the Etihad in Monday’s derby, the 26-year-old will represent the biggest threat to City’s chances of victory. He has been in rampaging form recently, having raised his game as United began to sense weakness and frailty in the City ranks.
City do have strong characters such as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Micah Richards. They do not, however, have an individual capable of hauling Mancini’s team to victory almost on his own. This is what Rooney brings.
At United he is central to everything that manager Sir Alex Ferguson does. On Match of the Day last weekend, Alan Shearer suggested Rooney had guided United through this season single-handedly.
That may be an exaggeration but nevertheless, Rooney’s influence on Ferguson’s team is profound. He does not wear the captain’s armband but he doesn’t need to. He leads by deed. Only this week, Ferguson spoke of Rooney’s partnership with Danny Welbeck and a growing understanding that was so evident during last week’s 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford. It is clear that he sees the two players as fundamental to his club’s future.
Ferguson said: ‘I think last week we saw something special.
‘I know there was a lot of reference to the (Dwight) Yorke and (Andy) Cole thing and I think there are similarities to that.
‘I thought Welbeck’s movement was fantastic last week. He did really well. Attacking-wise we were terrific in the second half.
‘Wayne is 26 now and Danny is 21. I would think over the next few years it (the partnership) can only get better. I hope so.’
Rooney has scored 36 goals this season, including a run of 16 in his last 14 games. Dropped after a night out after Christmas, he has responded by playing the best football of his campaign.
At City, though, they observe Rooney’s relationship with his manager closely; they wonder if there are cracks.
Both Rooney and Ferguson have spoken this season of their bond. Indeed, a newspaper that suggested their working relationship had broken down just after the forward was dropped in December were forced into a retraction.
Nevertheless, City remain watchful and even within the playing ranks at the Etihad there is clear and unlimited admiration for a player who took last October’s 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford harder than anyone.
City captain Kompany said this week: ‘He is one of the best strikers in the world, no doubt about that. He has all the qualities of the top strikers — he is quick, powerful and is a goalscorer.
‘He is also a leader for his team, and that makes him a special player.’
City’s transfer activity will be restricted by the impact of Uefa’s financial fair play rules this summer and indeed next but they do expect to shift players like Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Emmanuel Adebayor over the coming weeks. There will be room on the payroll for new players.
For Rooney to ever make the switch across Manchester there would have to be clear intent on his behalf. It is the only way such a transfer could ever get off the ground.
For now, Rooney bleeds red, in more ways than one. He has his eyes on his fifth Barclays Premier League title.
City, however, have not completely given up. – Daily Mail