Ian Herbert: Fit and firing, United's talisman seeks Ronaldo route to redemption

An interview designed to take the sting out of that contract saga served only to add to the risk of hubris that Wayne Rooney is creating for himself. In the latest extracts, screened before last night's game, Rooney revealed that he had spoken with the owners of Manchester United, no less, before signing a new deal. "Once I'd sat down with the manager and spoke with the owners, they told me how the club could move forward," Rooney declared.

It will be some time before he submits himself to the kind of examination which will be needed to persuade those Manchester United supporters who booed him last Saturday that this interview is anything more than confection. Were the Glazers on conference call to Old Trafford on 21 October, the fateful day before the new deal was announced? What did they say to persuade him to stay? Did a get-out clause this summer – triggered if, say, United fail to make next season's Champions League – come into the discussions? It may be years before we know answers to some of these questions. For now, the United fans, who are as quick as any to hit out at those they feel malign their club, will find all this Rooney indignation unconvincing. "My contract negotiations lasted about two hours," the striker also said last night. "If it was about money I would be sat down for days, months, trying to sort it out."

The only kind of talking which will answer the sceptics, of course, comes on the field of play. Think of 2006 when Cristiano Ronaldo, the winker, returned from the World Cup as the devil incarnate having earned Rooney a World Cup dismissal. The windows of Ronaldo's house in Cheshire were smashed, every ground in England lay in wait and you wondered if there was any way back. Then the Portuguese winger started to play.

That's what Rooney did, too, last night. His match did not quite add up to the image of a man with a direct line to the Glazers. We did not see the bulldog Rooney, piling into tackles and upping the passing tempo needed to pick through an obdurate side like Walter Smith's. The way he stabbed at an early opportunity in Rangers' area, when the chance to run at and torment Ricky Foster was there, showed up a player who was not impervious to the glee Ibrox would feel at the sight of him being dispossessed.

But the sight of Rooney elevating himself so early into Fabio da Silva's cross, which he sent against the crossbar, and his role as the fulcrum of a wonderful five-pass interchange with Nani and John O'Shea was a reminder of what United have been missing. This was the fittest Rooney we have seen this season.

A mentally fitter one, too. After screwing wide a header from Dimitar Berbatov's cross, Rooney lay flat on his front and in the early weeks of this season you would have expected him just to lie there and drag himself up. Last night, he bounced up and flashed a thumb.

The free-kick awarded just outside Rangers' box just after the break was the precursor of the night's denouement. When the ranks of Nani, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are patrolling the turf around the ball it takes some confidence to say you'll take it. Rooney did, sharply arcing the ball narrowly wide.

Then came the penalty. A big decision to take it and a big moment when he deposited it that way. The big man's not quite back but the courage of this finale suggests that if Rooney can't answer the questions being asked of him, then nobody can.

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