Wayne Rooney declared yesterday that Robin van Persie has taken over his mantle as the "talisman" of Manchester United and outlined the need to get more players working around him as the next stage in the club's way to capitalise on the £24m signing.
Rooney's 34-goal tally was more than double that of any of his team-mates last season but Van Persie's 11 goals in 14 games, including the equaliser in Wednesday night's 3-1 Champions League win amid the granite peaks of Braga, mean the England striker could soon be eclipsed as the team's heartbeat.
"I think he's great for the whole team; he's our talisman," said Rooney after the two strikers had combined to take the club into the last 16 of the competition. "He has a calmness about him, he holds the ball up well and brings players into play. We have to try and get players around him."
Rooney is playing the support act once again, just as he did during Cristiano Ronaldo's rise to become a £80m player in the last decade, only this time Sir Alex Ferguson has found a role for him, in the hole, which suits him. The interchangeability of the two strikers, who are very different personalities, has led Van Persie to say they are a pair of "nine-and-a-halves," rather than the Dutchman being a No 9 and Rooney a No 10.
Despite the attacking fusion, United's seemingly regal procession through to the knockout phase is rather illusory. They have trailed in nine out of 16 games this season before winning through in seven of them and the generally flaccid display in Braga, obscured by three late goals, was part of a pattern.
Rooney admitted that this is well short of perfection. "We're not happy when we concede goals," he said. "We need to be more solid as a team and make sure we get the first goal and we can kick on from there. Or if we have the lead, try and hold on to it. We will keep working hard and, hopefully, it will come good."
Of Van Persie, he added: "Last season at Arsenal was his best season in the Premier League goalscoring-wise. He changed his game to playing on the shoulder more and getting in better goalscoring positions. He's obviously a great finisher. I think he's strong and can hold the ball up. He's a fantastic player and he's a great lad to have around the squad."