Without an end product, doubts had grown as to whether he could ever recreate his glorious standards at Manchester United. Yet with every goal that destroyed Jussi Jaaskelainen's previously unblemished record at the Reebok Stadium this season, vindication moved closer. No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson milked the acclaim of a travelling support that in recent seasons has rarely sang his name as they did on Saturday.
While the second hat-trick of his professional career gave Wayne Rooney the match ball, a prize he kissed then chipped to a kit man for safekeeping having obliterated his 15-hour wait for a goal, the benefits of patience had to be shared with his manager. For Ferguson, who celebrates his 20th anniversary at Old Trafford one week from today, there was immense satisfaction in this destruction of third-placed Bolton - not least in light of his recent transfer policy.
The sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy still inflames passions in the public house inquests around Manchester, while the investment of £18.6m in Michael Carrick, £7.2m in Nemanja Vidic and £4.5m in Patrice Evra are also topics that have made ashtrays fly in this calendar year. One performance does not settle those arguments, no matter how majestic, and United's championship credentials remain reliant on the fitness of Rooney and the fragile Louis Saha, but such was their style and swagger on Saturday that designs on the title are now inevitable. That itself represents a great leap forward following three years' of soul-searching at Old Trafford.
Carrick was integral to United's one-touch marauding, arching two sublime passes behind the Bolton defence for Rooney's opening goal and the third from Cristiano Ronaldo, while Evra's athleticism and the power of Vidic were crucial in repelling the second-half response from Sam Allardyce's side.
"Carrick's ball for their first goal was inch perfect," said Allardyce. "As soon as he hit it I didn't think it would cause us any problems unless it was inch perfect. Unfortunately for us, it was, and Rooney didn't even have to check his stride.
"Then you look at Vidic," he added. "Now he has been given time to adjust to the Premiership he looks outstanding, and Evra as well. People were questioning those players last season but Sir Alex gives them time, he's patient, and now they have added to a very good squad. I think United are the team to go toe to toe with Chelsea this season, but keeping the players in the flair positions fit will be important."
No one has more flair in their white boots than Rooney, yet this was an uncharacteristic display from the striker four days after his 21st birthday; clinical rather than central to United's every move, efficient not elaborate. Almost Van Nistelrooy-like, in fact. For his first and third goals he allowed passes from Carrick and Darren Fletcher to run across his body before picking a spot out of Jaaskelainen's reach, and placed his second into the bottom corner from the edge of the Bolton penalty area. A stunning return to productivity, with the reaction to his opening goal a betrayal of claims a 10-match drought for United and England had not been of concern.
"There was a feeling of relief," he admitted. "It was a brilliant feeling when the ball hit the back of the net."
"There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks that I couldn't do it anymore," Rooney added, "so I'm really pleased to be back among the goals and playing well again."
Ferguson hailed United's opening as their finest performance "for two or three years" and such is his belief in this latest team he even likened the Vidic-Rio Ferdinand partnership to those cornerstones of past successes, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen. It is too early to compare medal collections, however, despite United's best start to a Premiership campaign. "I don't mind a two-horse race - I don't even mind a photo-finish - as long as we win it," the United manager said.
Goals: Rooney (10) 0-1; Rooney (16) 0-2; Ronaldo (82) 0-3; Rooney (89) 0-4.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Pedersen, 68), Meite, Faye, Ben Haim; Stelios (Tal, 82), Campo, Speed; Davies (Smith, 84), Anelka, Diouf. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Vaz Te.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Heinze, 62); Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs (Fletcher, 82); Rooney, Saha (O'Shea, 82). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Solskjaer.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Bolton Davies, Ben Haim; Manchester United Scholes, O'Shea.
Man of the match: Rooney.
Attendance: 27,229.Reuse content