Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 2: Golden cameo shows Rooney built to be Capello's foundation stone

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The Independent Online

With his English still at a formative stage and his cards close to his chest Fabio Capello didn't put it into words. But his former player at Roma, Aston Villa's John Carew, did.

The phrase has a nice ring in Italian Wayne Rooney e un giocatore d'oro but for the new manager of England its resonance would have beauty in any language. "Wayne Rooney is a golden player," said Carew, who at 6ft 4in and 13stone-plus has always been obliged to trade, albeit often with great effect, in less precious football metal. However, in a career which had taken in Norway, Spain, Italy and Turkey before his signing by Martin O'Neill, Carew has had opportunity enough to note the difference between good and great players.

After Rooney had struck down his team in a 20-minute cameo which combined in equal measure hard work, brilliant skill and exceptional vision, Carew had no doubt about the status of the conqueror.

"He missed one chance," said the Norwegian striker, "but his run from midfield was unbelievable and not many forwards would even think about doing that and he did it again when he scored his goal. They should call Rooney 'Braveheart' or something because apart from everything else he is playing with such a big heart.

"I have never played with him but I have seen a lot of him and he has to be one of the top 10 players in the world along with Cristiano Ronaldo. The English should be proud of Rooney because they have a great player with a great future who could fit into any team in the world. You can count on one hand the players who work as hard as him and he can be so incisive.

"I'm sure Fabio will look to build his team around Rooney because he has been dealing with big teams and big players before. Capello has had big success because he is a winner and I'm sure he will get the best out of all his players."

Capello was mostly sphinx-like as he sat beside the Football Association chief executive, Brian Barwick, but there could be little question about the surge in his pulse whenever Rooney was on the ball or moving superbly off it and the word is that he was euphoric about the kind of virtuoso work which first suggested it could transform England in a European Championship qualifier against Turkey in Sunderland five years ago.

Rooney was the precocious hope of Sven Goran Eriksson then. Now, here, he looked like Fabio's foundation stone.

Until Rooney's arrival much of the work of both teams was too frenzied to please an Italian football soul, but there were other encouragements for Capello beyond this striking confirmation that Rooney is indeed potentially his player of destiny.

Not least was another reminder from Rio Ferdinand that when he is made aware of a serious challenge as he was a few weeks ago when facing a previously rampant Fernando Torres at Anfield there is a very good chance he will produce a defensive masterclass. One moment stood out above all others. Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose England claims are with good reason being pushed for his electrifying pace, at no point made unanswerable claims on Capello's attention, but then he might have done but for Ferdinand's brilliant response to a moment of extreme menace. Agbonlahor exploded into the box and as he moved the ball seamlessly on to his shooting foot his manager O'Neill threatened the world high jump record in the technical area. Ferdinand, however, put in a block of sensational timing.

Capello will have noted Gareth Barry's lack of killing pace but no doubt also the heavily compensating virtues, including a fine reading of the play and some moments of impressive authority, not least when he was dispossessing the firefly Ronaldo and moving downfield in a manner which could be described as imperious.

Barry's impressive performance must have encouraged O'Neill in his hope that his growing team might pass the "litmus test" they failed so painfully last October when United came here and won 4-1 rather as though they were Derby trialists misdirected to a selling plate.

But such optimism, well justified by a first-half performance of impressive application and flashpoints of danger from Agbonlahor and his fellow England hopeful Ashley Young, was dismantled by the goals of Ronaldo and Rooney in the last nine minutes. The only comfort then was that perhaps only one other team in England, Arsenal, would have had much of a chance of withstanding such an inspired onslaught.

Extraordinarily, United were completing their 11th successive victory at Villa Park, a record which includes the FA Cup semi-final wins over Arsenal and Watford. They were also announcing a range and depth of talent that makes a repeat of their historic 1999 treble of Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League look increasingly feasible. Villa may still be short of pedigree in several vital positions, but O'Neill was candid about the level of his disappointment. He did indeed believe that this could be a benchmark in his work, a point where a young team could look at themselves and catch at least a glimpse of gravitas.

Rooney made matchwood of such a fancy, but then this said rather more about him than Villa. It said that if Fabio Capello has inherited the myth of a golden generation, he can at least be sure about one golden player.

Goals: Ronaldo (81) 0-1; Rooney (89) 0-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Davies, Bouma (Gardner, 83); Petrov (Maloney,75), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young; Carew (Moore, 64), Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Knight.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Anderson, Park (Rooney, 70); Saha (Hargreaves, 79), Giggs (O'Shea,90) Substitutes not used: Heaton (gk), Nani.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire)

Man of the match: Rooney

Attendance: 33,630.

Call from Capello?

Gabriel Agbonlahor (A Villa)

Started brightly enough to put Rio Ferdinand on full alert but he could not sustain his impact. Still, Capello will surely have noted workable raw material in that blinding turn of foot.

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