Sir Alex Ferguson helps Manchester United in efforts to keep Wayne Rooney

Conciliatory former manager hails striker as 'back to his best' but denies claims by former referee Mark Halsey

Sir Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United's efforts to woo Wayne Rooney tonight, saying four months after his comments drove a wedge between striker and club that the 27-year-old was "back to what we always remember him as".

Rooney passed up the chance to say that he felt emotionally restored to the club this week, with his anger over his former manager's public declaration that he had demanded a transfer fundamental to his desire to leave for Chelsea.

New manager David Moyes – who may be without Danny Welbeck for Sunday's Manchester derby – will hope that the 71-year-old repaired a little of the damage when he delivered glowing praise for the striker's part in defeating Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

The performance had been "terrific", said Ferguson, who seemed to be fiddling with his mobile phone in the directors' box as Rooney left the field to an ovation against the Germans.

"I thought there was a lot of key elements. Wayne's performance was fantastic. I was pleased to see that. He's got his energy back. His determination to attack players. It was all very encouraging for me. Being a director I am delighted to see that. He's back to what we always remember him as."

The retired manager is clearly irritated by material relating to him in former referee Mark Halsey's autobiography, Added Time and suggested to the club's in-house media that some of it was "a little bit Walter Mitty" – the implication being that Halsey was imagining some of the stories he told. The former referee's suggestion that he was on texting terms with Ferguson is the most highly controversial.

"I can't believe some of the stuff [in the book]," Ferguson said. "The Alex Ferguson element in his book – [Halsey] feels it's important. But all the managers in the North West and some players supported him and his wife when he had cancer.

"It was a terrible period for the lad and the football fraternity got behind him. We gave him jersey after jersey for all the dinners he was having. Of course a Manchester United strip figures greatly in these auctions. A signed strip. And other players donated other items as well.

"But the laughable thing in all this is that I influenced the refereeing fraternity. If you think about it, this is [me] – the guy with the worst record in the history of English football. I was fined round about £100,000 by [the Football Association]. Suspended so many times. Some influence, I must say! I didn't read a lot of the summary in the press – to me it's a little bit Walter Mitty some of that stuff."

Halsey claimed he had asked Ferguson to intervene at one of his Friday press conferences to vouch for Mark Clattenburg at the time, last October, when he was wrongly accused of racism by John Obi Mikel – a claim that was unfounded.

"I don't remember that but I didn't need [Halsey] to do that," Ferguson said. "I was going to be asked that anyway in the press conference. We'd played [Chelsea] that week so the next press conference was always going to be full of that. My take – quite rightly; I know it's 100 per cent correct – [is that] there is no way I can think a referee would ever abuse a player racially."

Ferguson said he misses "the banter in the dressing room, the humour on the training pitch, relationships built over a long period." He doesn't miss "press conferences on a Friday."

Welbeck did not train again today because of a swollen knee which repeatedly troubles him.

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