James Lawton: Rooney's rededication to the pursuit of glory sets a fine standard for the season

It may well be that not all the mockery that greeted Wayne Rooney's declaration that he aspires to the levels achieved by Lionel Messi will have subsided by the time he appears at Wembley tomorrow afternoon. However, one of the more encouraging facts in a football build-up that has been rather less than overwhelming is that he plainly retains the ability to track down what is left of the derision and put it to the sword.

He certainly did it the last time he played Manchester City and then the question was not whether he could ever conjure anything of the magic of Messi, but if he retained even a fragment of the brilliance that once persuaded some hard judges that he might indeed prove to be a player of the ages.

The goal that gave United vital momentum in pursuit of their 19th title was, of course, utterly extraordinary – so much so that he firmly believes it is the best he ever scored – and it would have been so had it come from the boot of a player rejoicing in one of the peaks of his form. In fact, it was knocked in by someone on whom copious obituaries had already been written, with varying degrees of conviction.

Maybe it partly explains the adrenalin rush Rooney is apparently anticipating when he starts in the Community Shield game against City, who in his absence in the FA Cup semi-final were able to follow the promptings of their best player, Yaya Touré, and sweep towards their first trophy in 35 years.

Rooney wasn't exactly luminous against City in that hard-fought derby but when he produced the winner so majestically it was as though he may just have unlocked a door. Certainly, his play took on some of its old weight and subtlety in the run-in to the title, not least when he magnificently shaped a United comeback at Upton Park before yelling so disastrously into a touchline microphone.

The Messi statement came in the wake of Rooney's thoroughly committed performance in the shadow of football's Little Maestro in the Champions League final. Also entirely admirable were Rooney's sentiments. He didn't say that he was launching himself into some sure-fire, mano-a-mano contest with the great Argentine. No, he said that Messi had set a standard which every player was obliged to attempt to follow.

Indeed, if you took the trouble to read between the lines you might have identified not some vainglorious assertion but more than a hint of a mea culpa.

It did, after all, come after a season in which worries about Rooney's ability to resurrect some of the brilliance of his youth had been assuaged to any degree only in the final stages.

His World Cup performance created a shadow over his career which will not easily be dispelled in three years' time, assuming he remains England's far and away most gifted player. The unravelling of his private life cast question marks against his old reputation as one of the last of the street footballers, someone whose passion for the game would always be a buttress against the distractions of extreme wealth and celebrity. His heavily contrived contract dispute with Manchester United looked rather like the last word in grasping cynicism.

Worst of all, not only did Rooney play poorly for most of the season, he quite often looked resigned to the fact that something vital had left him. It was the flash of intuition, the touch of authority which separates the great players, even struggling great players, from the rest.

When you consider such realities there is surely an obligation to see Rooney's Messi statement in a wholly favourable light.

He did not suggest he was speaking of a routine ambition. He was admitting, if only by implication, a serious shortfall in his own achievement. And he was doing this from a position which a less driven individual might not have considered exactly embattled. With earnings of £20m a year, when sponsorships were added to his £200,000-a-week payslips, he still, after all the convulsions of his year, lagged behind only Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the wealth league of front-rank active players.

Tomorrow City will not be lacking challengers to Rooney's restated pursuit of glory. Sergio Aguero, Diego Maradona's son-in-law and a performer of silky touch and impressive bite, will be presenting his credentials to a new audience and Touré will no doubt be seeking to inflict the influence so powerfully exerted at the end of last season.

On Rooney's own side, Javier Hernandez will be striving as hungrily as ever for the fresh gun-belt notches that will enhance one of the fastest rising reputations in world football.

At the approach of his 26th birthday, Rooney is not without evidence that the challenge he has earmarked for himself is hardly exclusive. Yet in a way this only increases the merit of his resolve to be judged, by himself and the rest of football, only according to the highest standards.

He never said he was as good or as consistent as Messi – or that he believed that one day he would surpass him. The declaration was merely that the little man had set the standard for all footballers of exceptional talent. How comfortably Rooney continues to inhabit such company is not the least intriguing question on the way to Wembley tomorrow. It is surely to Wayne Rooney's great credit that he is the man who posed it.



Tiger still thrives beyond McIlroy's protected habitat



Tiger Woods may not have made an unanswerable statement of resurrection with a 68 in a low-scoring opening of the Bridgestone Invitational – and especially not with so much accompanying evidence that his work off the tee still owes far too much to chance and speculation.

Yet who can say it is not some kind of charge to the spirit to see him back?

Certainly, his return is timely in the wake of suspicions that it may have been a shade premature to assume Rory McIlroy is a sure-fire challenger to the Tiger's mark of 14 major triumphs, not to mention the 18 of Jack Nicklaus.

Brilliant though he is, the young Ulsterman is plainly some way from the certainties of the 21-year-old Tiger after his sensational breakthrough in the 1997 Masters. McIlroy's complaints about the British climate, his view that maybe the manicured lawns and sunshine of Florida are so much more to his taste than the wild linksland that has brought the best out of the world's great golfers, is jarring not only to the game's aficionados.

It carries more than a hint of a certain shortfall in ambition to conquer every aspect of a game for which he has been so bountifully equipped. No one ever made such a charge against the Tiger (left) until his private life was exposed so dramatically. Even now, you have to suspect some great days may lie ahead.

No doubt this is also true of Rory McIlroy but will it only be when he deems the time – and the weather – is right? If so, it has to be a serious worry.

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
Floyd
newsFloyd 'Creeky' Creekmore still performed regularly to raise money for local hospitals
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?