Rooney to focus on improving game

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney will try to ignore all the plaudits now being heaped on him from every corner of Europe and instead concentrate on getting even better.

"Grandissimo," declared the Italian media of a performance that left seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan in a state of shock. "Devastating," claimed Sir Alex Ferguson. It all amounts to the same thing.

His old team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo had his own way of embracing the chatter that acclaimed him as one of the world's best players.

Asked to comment on his wonder goal in Porto last season, the Portugal superstar responded matter-of-factly: "It was probably the best goal I have ever scored. I can't wait to get back to the hotel and watch it again on DVD."

That is Ronaldo's way, and highly entertaining it is too. But it is fair to assume the first thing England's main man did when he got back to Rooney Towers in the early hours after flying straight home from Milan was not skim through the highlights of an amazing encounter in the San Siro to pick out his best bits.

Like Ronaldo, Rooney is desperate to get better. He does it differently.

"If people are saying nice things about me that is good but I am not really listening too much," he said.

"I am not really focusing on that side of things. I know what I need to keep doing. I just want to keep playing well."

He is not on his own with that last statement.

Every England fan understands what their Manchester United counterparts have known all season; Rooney is essential to any hope of success.

If Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello both said a silent prayer every evening pleading for the 24-year-old to be delivered to their respective dates with destiny fit and firing, no-one could blame them.

To Ronaldo, Kaka and Lionel Messi is ready to be added another superstar, AC Milan's veteran defenders had no answer once United managed to get the ball into the right areas at the San Siro last night.

"The manager pointed out when the ball came in, defenders didn't want to come in with me," said Rooney.

"It meant I had time to turn and run at them.

"I have been working a lot on getting into the box a lot more, especially inside the six-yard box.

"That is helping me to score goals, which gives me more confidence.

"I don't know how far I can go with my scoring total this season. I am delighted to have scored two goals in such a big game, two headers as well. Hopefully I can keep it up."

In the aftermath of last night's carnage, Ferguson mentioned a target of 30 for what is already the most prolific season of Rooney's career.

That seems to be a modest total given Rooney has 25 already and still has three months to pilfer more, slightly longer if United's season extends to the Champions League final in Madrid on May 22.

For all their words of optimism, it is highly unlikely Milan will halt the Red Devils in their tracks.

In 53 years of European combat, United have never been beaten by two goals on home soil and only twice suffered a 3-2 defeat that would take them into extra-time at Old Trafford on March 10.

Without trying, Rooney got it right with his pay-off line as he summed up a dramatic improvement over the last two months, if not for himself, then for United as a whole, at the start of an elongated five-week schedule of games to determine the quarter-finalists.

"It is not just me who has improved over the last few months," he said. "The whole team has.

"We have been more consistent and got the results when it's mattered. That has been another factor that has really helped my game.

"We didn't play as well as we can in the first half last night and didn't get some of the decisions we should have.

"But that can happen in European football away from home. I am sure other teams will look at this result and won't really want to face us."

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