Manchester – Manchester United manager David Moyes lavished praise on Wayne Rooney after the striker inspired his side to a 4-2 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in their opening Champions League game.
The England striker scored twice and set up a late goal for Antonio Valencia to give the Premier League champions a strong start in Group A and further confirm his commitment to the United cause.
Moyes spent his first close season at Old Trafford fighting to keep Rooney at the club amid interest from Chelsea, and with three goals in two games, the 27-year-old has now reached the milestone of 200 goals for United.
He requires 50 further goals to surpass Bobby Charlton as United's all-time leading scorer and Moyes says the prospect of a place in the club's history books helped persuade the former Everton player to stay put.
“It was something that we made him aware of,” Moyes told reporters after Tuesday's game at Old Trafford.
“More importantly, I wanted to get him back in really good condition and mentally correct when he was ready to play.
“I think you see him. He's moving as well as he has done, he's in a good place in himself at the moment, and obviously any centre-forward who's scoring goals feels good about himself.”
Moyes added: “If you want to win the Champions League, you need to have several world-class players and Wayne would certainly come into that category.”
Rooney is only the fourth player to have reached a double-century of United goals, after Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211).
“I remember coming in and saying he's got a real chance to be one of the all-time leading goal-scorers at this club,” Moyes added.
“If he keeps playing like he did tonight, he'll get there. He was very, very good.”
Moyes also reserved praise for Marouane Fellaini, who has followed him to United from Everton and who produced an assured performance on his full debut before going off in the second half.
“I thought he played well tonight,” Moyes said.
“He settled in well. He started to get a little bit of cramp mid-way through the second half so I thought I wouldn't take any chances with him. But he did a good job.”
After Rooney put United ahead with a 22nd-minute volley, Simon Rolfes equalised with a deflected shot nine minutes into the second half.
However, an acrobatic Robin van Persie volley restored United's lead five minutes later and further goals from Rooney and Valencia made it 4-1, before Omer Toprak claimed a consolation with two minutes to play.
Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia, the former Liverpool centre-back, admitted that his side had struggled to get to grips with the effervescent Rooney.
“He's done it for years already and I think he still has a few years left,” said Hyypia, who came up against Rooney on a number of occasions during his 10-year Anfield career.
“To score 200 goals is a good achievement. It's a few more than I scored in my career.
“He's still scoring goals and I think he'll score goals for a few years more. It looks so easy, how he's playing.”
United's opening goal was contentious, with Valencia appearing to stray into an offside position as Rooney dispatched his shot, but Hyypia refused to criticise Slovenian referee Damir Skomina.
“The first goal is always important in football, but I haven't seen it on TV so I can't comment too much,” he said.
“I heard it might have been offside, but those are things you can't control and after the game, there's no use talking about them.
“We need to analyse what we could have done better tonight and try to work on them on the training pitch and do those things better next time.” – Sapa-AFP