Wayne Rooney yesterday admitted that he realises the full enormity of what he almost threw away by threatening to leave Manchester United and reflected that the club's ascent to a possible Premier League and Champions League double has vindicated his decision to put his faith in Sir Alex Ferguson and stay.
"You know, when you look at it now, how wrong was I!" Rooney said in the aftermath of the 2-0 victory in Schalke on Tuesday which has all but affirmed United as Champions League finalists at Wembley. "We are one step closer now to the final and with the league we are in a very strong position. I am 100 per cent committed to this club."
Rooney's road to redemption in the eyes of those United fans who see his "October revolution" at Old Trafford as a means of securing a better contract is by no means completed, but his 13 goals in 28 games have seen him deliver on the promise to repay them through his performances. "Obviously I understood that I made a mistake. I admitted that and I apologised for that and moved on and I have wanted to try and prove myself again to the Manchester United fans," Rooney said. "Obviously it's been a lot different [in the second-half of the season, compared with the first].
"I am a lot happier in my life and happier with the way I'm playing, so it's almost been like having to settle down again and I've done that. I think the fans have been really good and I'm obviously grateful to them for supporting me through it and I'm delighted with my form at the minute."
He admitted that he did not dream of United's current position when he said on 20 October that he doubted the "continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world" and "win trophies." Those words of Rooney's, issued shortly before United's Champions League tie with Bursaspor at Old Trafford, angered Patrice Evra, who said after the 1-0 win that "if one player does not trust the other players, that player should not play" and the French defender reflected again after Tuesday's win in the Ruhr on how that night had brought "big trouble... there was a lot of trouble for Man United".
But Evra said that the undeniable spirit which has seen United rescue 13 points in the last seven minutes of league matches this season has enabled them to rise from that low point. "I remember after the game we won 1-0 in the Champions League against the Turkish side and before that game everyone was criticising Manchester United, saying it's the end of the empire," Evra said. "I remember in my interview that I said 'You have to pay the musician at the end of the show.' And I still think the same."
Ferguson has always sensed that the Rooney contract affair could draw the players closer. "It could have exactly the galvanising effect we need, that pulls everyone together," he said, back in November. Evra said the spirit was there on that ominous night at Old Trafford when United's anaemic display against Bursaspor seemed only to confirm the striker's prognosis that this was a club heading out of the elite.
"When we were in that bad position we still believed we could win the league," Evra said. "Manchester United always believe until the end. How many goals do we score in the last minute? That's the right spirit. We believe we can win the title."
What no-one – least of all Rooney – appreciated at that stage was precisely what value Javier Hernandez was about to bring to the club. On 20 October, he had started only four games and scored twice in competitive games. Against Schalke, the partnership with Rooney looked more irresistible than ever.
Discussing their rapid blend – and his own new role as an old-fashioned No10 operating behind the Mexican – in detail for the first time, Rooney said it was not something he had discussed with Ferguson in advance. "I obviously saw and understood Chicharito and the way he plays and I knew if I was playing up front with him I would have to change and maybe play a bit deeper and try and link the play a bit," Rooney said. "It has worked for us. He's been a fantastic signing and has scored a lot of goals – important goals as well – and I'm enjoying getting on the ball and linking play and getting a few goals. Sometimes when you play up front on your own you're not really in the game as much, you're sort of waiting for your opportunity to score. When you play in the position, you're always involved. You can get on the ball and create and score goals. As a footballer you enjoy that."
Though this United squad have been characterised as an inferior one to those who reached the 2008 and 2009 finals, Rooney believes they are superior in certain areas. "We are controlling games a lot better than we probably were in the lead up to those two [Champions League] finals," he said. "Then we were about counter-attacking and a lot of pace and now I think we are controlling games a lot more and having a lot more possession.
A flank appeared to open yesterday for Ferguson to seek a change of heart from Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, whose desire to keep playing in Germany makes Bayern Munich favourites to sign him. The Bayern president, Uli Hoeness, said his club would not pay through the nose for the goalkeeper and had not yet started transfer negotiations. "Schalke cannot now demand an astronomical price," Hoeness said. But the Schalke sporting director, Horst Heldt, said that they were prepared to hold Neuer to his contract which expires next summer. "If someone offers €100m, you cannot expect me to say Neuer is not for sale, but a contract is a contract," Heldt said.
United's understanding that Neuer will go to Bayern means that Ajax's Maarten Stekelenburg and Atletico Madrid's David de Gea are more likely replacements for Edwin van der Sar.
- More about:
- Bayern Munich
- FC Bayern
- French Football
- Premier League
- UEFA Champions League
- Wayne Rooney