Wayne Rooney is on the cusp of becoming a “great” according to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The 23-year-old striker, who has 11 goals in 12 games for club and country since June, has taken on the mantle of United’s talisman after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid this summer.
Ferguson believes that Rooney can now be classed in the same bracket as Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kaká.
“Wayne could easily get to that level,” said Ferguson at his pre-Champions League press conference, Tuesday.
“It was a pretty remarkable feat to get that hat-trick and his progress has never disappointed us at any point since.”
Rooney’s début hat-trick, in United’s 6-2 Champions League group stage win over Turkish side Fenerbahçe, came five years ago, Tuesday. Given that Rooney, recovering from a broken metatarsal suffered at Euro 2004, hadn’t played for 10 weeks still ranks the game as one of Rooney’s finest. 18-year-old Rooney scored four times for England at Euro 2004 and signed for United in a £25.6 million after a late bid from Newcastle.
“When we signed him as a kid, we thought he would become a really top player. Without question he is going in that direction,” said the Scot.
“He is blessed with some ingredients only great footballers have. He has a great determination and hunger to win every match and every training session. That will never change.”
Not only has Rooney added goals to his repertoire this season but he has benefited from being deployed in a central attacking role. The former Everton striker, who notched his 100th goal for the club at Wigan Athletic in August, played much of last season from the left-wing.
The striker, set to make his 50th European appearance for the club, will start against VfL Wolfsburg at Old Trafford tonight. And Ferguson has challenged Rooney, who scored 23 goals in all competitions last season, to beat that tally this term. It is the player’s determination that will make it happen, according to the Scot.
“Sometimes there is criticism about the amounts footballers get paid. But when you see the effort he puts in, he is worth every penny,” said Ferguson.
“He plays as if he means it. It is a wonderful thing to have.”
Unlike United’s former winger Ronaldo, the Toxteth-born player has no intention of letting the plaudits go to his head. The grounded nature of the striker’s demeanour continues to win fans, where the Real Madrid player alienated them. And Rooney says that he wants to become not only the “great” of Ferguson’s praise but a United legend to boot.
“I hope I’m still at United when I’m the same age as guys like Ryan, Scholesy and Gary Neville,” Rooney told The Sun recently.
“I’ve always said that as long as United want me, I’m happy to stay. I don’t want to leave. I love the club and have no reason to even think about moving. I’m sure I’ll be here for a long time.”
Longevity aside many are looking for Rooney to reach not only the upper echelons of the game but be recognised as such. That Rooney failed to get a single vote in the FIFA World Player of the Year poll last season, or challenge for the PFA or Football Writers Player of the Year, says much. Out of the shadows of Ronaldo, Rooney now has the stage to deliver in what will be the biggest season of his career.
United fans are counting on it.