200 not out: Feisty Rooney back to his best

The Manchester United striker turned in a performance of the highest order on Tuesday but was tetchy when asked about his happiness at Old Trafford
By Wayne Veysey

If Wayne Rooney sustains this kind of form, then the headband will have to be prised off his injured scalp.

Most footballers are superstitious types and it will not have been lost on the Manchester United man that he has scored three goals in the two games since playing with the Rab C Nesbitt-style adornment to protect a wound sustained 17 days ago.

But the striker did not require his natty headpiece to stand out in a Champions League curtain-raiser when he fizzed with the majesty of a newly-opened vintage bottle of champagne.

Rooney scored goals of great composure in either half, as well as smartly setting up Antonio Valencia for the crowning strike, to become only the fourth player in United’s history to reach the 200-goal landmark for the club.

Had he been more ruthless with an open goal from a tight angle after rounding the keeper, Rooney would have been reflecting afterwards on a hat-trick but, more important in the general scheme of things was his all-round contribution.

The No.10 was outstanding, leading the charge when United were in possession, hungrily trying to retrieve it when they did not and generally looking fitter, sharper and hungrier than he has for years.

His second goal, when he latched on to a deep cross from David de Gea, advanced upon the Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno from the left side of the box, gave him the eyes to suggest he would aim for the far post before dispatching it inside the near upright, was of the very highest class.

Chants of ‘Rooney, Rooney’ reverberated around a damp but captivated Old Trafford throughout the evening, culminating in a deafening standing ovation when he was replaced by Javier Hernandez with seven minutes remaining and victory secured.

This performance leaves only Bobby Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211) above Rooney in the United all-time scoring list.

“I said a month ago he's got a chance to join the real greats here with his goalscoring record,” observed David Moyes afterwards.

“I thought his goals tonight were great, he got round the goalkeeper and that could've been the hat-trick, obviously his second at the time, but he deserved the ovation that he got, his performance was terrific.”

Bayer Leverkusen were welcoming opponents, possessing a none-too-sturdy defence that was protected by a goalkeeper who appeared to have smeared butter over his gloves before kick-off.

But that should not detract from a third committed, and impressive, display from Rooney since returning to the United starting XI for the goalless draw against Chelsea at the end of August.

It provided further early vindication of United’s refusal to sell him to Chelsea during the summer, demonstrating what an asset a lean and purposeful Rooney is to the Premier League champions.

Of greater concern was Rooney’s reluctance in a snap post-match TV interview to provide any evidence that his longing for new pastures has abated.

He looked visibly tetchy when asked – twice – if he was happy at United, dodging the question with rather less alacrity than some of the Leverkusen tackles.

Even Moyes admitted that he was not certain that his most high-profile player wanted to actually be at Old Trafford.

"I don't know,” said the Scot. “I just know that he's been great in training, he's worked really hard, he's fit, he looks fit and lean and he showed [this] in his performance tonight again."

The band is continuing to aid Rooney for now. Yet his relationship with his club appears like it still needs more than a sticking plaster to hold it together.