MANCHESTER — In the far right corner of the Old Trafford pitch in the 75th minute of the game, Wayne Rooney tracked back Chelsea’s Ramires like a man possessed.
As the Brazilian midfielder got to the byline Rooney appeared from nowhere, hunting his pray down before pouncing to make an inch-perfect sliding tackle to win the ball back.
Most of the 75,032 fans in the stadium rose to their feet as one, giving off the biggest roar of the night and chanted “Rooney, Rooney” as the 27-year-old Englishman surged forward and played the ball upfield.
The prodigal son had returned.
Rooney started his first game for the Red Devils, a largely uneventful 0-0 draw with Chelsea, since the end of the 2012-13 campaign and was easily the best player on the pitch.
Both managers agreed.
“I was very pleased with his performance,” Manchester United manager David Moyes said. “And I was very pleased with the reaction he got from the crowd. I expected it. He worked back, he tackled, he chased when we needed it.”
(MORE: Jury still out on David Moyes at Manchester United)
While Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho shared the love, as he shrugged off the chase for Rooney’s signature before the transfer window slams shut next Monday.
“I think the most important thing is that he [Rooney] played very well,” Mourinho said. “He was a real professional. He played for the club that pays him, tried to win, tried to score. He was fantastic.”
So, with both managers singing Rooney’s praises and both sets of supporters chanting his name during the game — Chelsea’s fans jokingly sang “Oh Wayne Rooney, we’ll see you next week” — Rooney is a man in demand.
Following a performance like that you can see why. On the biggest stage of all against a resolute Chelsea defense, with all the rumors swirling around, that took true guts and true class. There were some rusty moments, as there’s bound to be following his injury-hit summer. In the 16th minute Rooney was set free down the right but his cross hit the first man. He looked to the heavens briefly, then shrugged it off.
The Rooney of old was back. In the 77th minute the Liverpudlian came closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock, as he took one touch before rifling a 25 yards shot towards the Chelsea goal. Only a sprawling right handed save from Petr Cech denied Rooney yet another storybook finish to another complex plot he’s constructed.
(MORE: Jose Mourinho praises Chelsea’s “kids” after defensive masterclass)
Yes, many would argue the situation Rooney has created for himself shouldn’t win him many fans. Demanding a move from one of the world’s biggest clubs rubs most people the wrong way. But he plays well when it counts. First and foremost, no matter what his state of mind is and where he wants to play, Rooney sparkles on the pitch in front of over 75,000 adoring fans and with billions watching around the world on television. The England international put in a perfect professional display, just to remind Chelsea what they’re missing if they can’t grab him.
But come next week, who will he be strutting his stuff for in the 2013-14 Premier League season? Mourinho wants the tale to be over. “We are going to close another player. If he’s not coming we are going to close another player.” The 50-year-old Portuguese manager is sick of waiting for Rooney, with Samuel Eto’o on standbye, Rooney has “24-48 hours” in José’s owns words.
And Mourinho had the final say on Rooney.
“The person that starts the story has to finish the story.” The balls in your court, Wayne.
Is this transfer saga finally over?