Olympiakos v Manchester United: 'One Champions League crown is not enough for me', says Wayne Rooney
I grew up wanting to win trophies. That’s what you’ll be judged on when you finish your career
The rules of engagement were that last night’s press conference must be about Manchester United’s imminent European fixture, rather than their most highly paid player, but Wayne Rooney did not seem to mind the rules being broken.
In 15 minutes of conversation, give or take, he ranged from an analysis of Bayern Munich at Arsenal (“perfect”), and Barcelona at Manchester City (“incredible”) to the question of how he would want to be remembered.
The impression that you took away was of a player yearning to cut it with the elite again, as he did on that wet spring night in Moscow six years ago. He laughed a little self-consciously when he was asked whether his record of one winner’s and two runner-up medals was enough for him – a leading question, for sure – but there was sentiment in his reply. “To win one is never enough,” he said. “The feeling you get as a player when you win those finals is incredible, so there’s no way you’d want to stop at one.”
You also envisaged him sitting in front of the TV set at home in Prestbury, mentally calculating what his part would have been in the two Champions League games he watched last week, especially Bayern’s win at Arsenal. “The way they keep the ball and open teams up is great to watch,” he said. “We have to go and try to do that – try and keep the ball, be patient and break teams down. A lot of teams we are playing are sitting back with all the team [behind the ball].”
The notion of United matching what Bayern accomplished at the Emirates seems remote, given that a goalless draw there a few days before the Germans’ arrival was an achievement in this desperate season. Yet Rooney knows that there is another way to progress in Europe.
How could he not, being from a city so drenched in the memory of what Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool did in Istanbul in 2005? The achievements of Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea in the face of Barcelona seven years later are vivid too.
The European seedings, weighted as they are in favour of the Champions League’s established heavyweights, served United a group they could win, a subsequent round-of-16 game they should win – and allowed them something of a novelty: a potential chance to inhale the fresh air of territory out of City and Arsenal’s reach – if, as seems likely, those clubs are eliminated at this stage.
This careworn, graffiti-strewn city is looking for heroes of its own, too. The bronze statue of a juggling player outside the stadium entrance is of no one in particular, but the interior of the place boasts new facilities and is decorated with a montage of half a century of European nights, including the Champions League quarter-final Olympiakos reached in 1999.
“The time has come for us,” said the midfielder Giannis Maniatis and, though the words of their manager, Michel, were being translated from Spanish, into Greek, then into English, they did seem to be invested with bite. His side are missing only Javier Saviola, out with a thigh injury. The segment of the stadium where an SS banner was displayed during the Anderlecht game in December has been closed as a Uefa sanction against racism, though only the stadium capacity will be only 2,000 lighter. There will still be a wall of noise.
The odds are stacked against United making this season the one which will be remembered for European glory amid domestic distress. Rooney talked meaningfully about things picking up. But we have been here too many times this season, expecting the trigger point from which United do not look back. For as long as there is light there is hope when the knockout games come around, though.
A place at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz for the European Cup final in May creates the potential to send the side into the summer with momentum, carrying the status of a club who can still attract the Continent’s best, and are not ready to vanish into obscurity.
For Rooney, 29 this autumn and notionally committed to this club for the rest of his career after signing his new contract, the need to retain that link to the past, while a United future is built, seems even greater.
“As a winner,” is how he wanted to be remembered, he said. “I think every player wants to win and I’m no different. I grew up all my life wanting to win trophies. That’s my main aim. At Man United that’s what we aim to do is win trophies. That’s what you’ll be judged on when you’ve finished your career – not just me but the whole team.”
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