Courageous Rooney displays true worth to bury memories of World Cup shame
Wayne Rooney smacked into the Schalke forward Edu in the centre circle of the Veltins Arena after 26 minutes. For a second, the blue-clad hordes, the wedge of red-shirted visitors corralled into one corner of the stadium, his coaches sitting on the United bench, everyone inside this giant indoor bowl held their breath.
Enveloped in a collective sense of deja vu, for the briefest moment this boisterous cauldron of a football ground fell silent.
Five years ago, on almost the same spot, Rooney had tangled with the Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho in the World Cup quarter-final. As they were back then, legs were akimbo, an opponent was left sprawling on the turf as Rooney emerged with the ball.
That time in 2006, however, he left his mark on his opponent's groin and, his face registering instant remorse, was immediately shown the red card. With his dismissal his team's chances went south: England were goners.
This time, with the referee waving play on, satisfied Rooney's robustness was entirely within the rules of the game, nothing more significant came of his challenge than United yet again regained possession of the ball.
And began once more to move forward with menace and purpose.
Depending on your view of the player, you could call it foolhardiness, pig-headedness, maybe just plain stupidity to go in with such unbridled aggression inches from the scene of the crime. But there was something gloriously brave about Rooney's challenge.
It was a tackle which insisted this was not a man cowed by circumstance or history. Never mind that this is a stadium which represents one of the several landmarks of ignominy with which his career is pockmarked, this was a tackle which exemplified the extraordinary commitment to the Manchester United cause he displayed all night. He did not stop running, tackling, creating.
In a team performance as good as this particular vintage has ever given, a performance of craft, style and intelligence, he was the red exemplar.
In many ways, United's European away games give a glimpse of what the future holds in store for Wayne Rooney. Playing behind Javier Hernandez, the debutant of this and many a season, Rooney is given the opportunity to drop deep, to control the tempo of the game. From there, finding great prairies of empty space, he can demonstrate the full range of his passing.
And what passing. His ball to Ryan Giggs for United's opening goal was extraordinary, a reverse pass of such ruthless beauty it took the breath away.
It certainly caused the air to leave the lungs of the German back line, leaving them stock still in seeming admiration. It was an aberration from which they had no time to recover before the endlessly energetic United No 10 was tearing on to Hernandez's pass for a second.
The chant that rose up in celebration from the visitors' end for once could not be dismissed as hyperbole: this was the English Pele in action.
In this game, Rooney shared a pitch with the most vaulted exponent of his new, deeper role.
They love Raul in the Ruhr. 'Senor' they call him in Gelsenkirchen and around the stadium ahead of the game the streets were filled by overweight chaps in blue shirts with Raul emblazoned across their shoulders.
This was the Spaniard's 141st game in the Champions League, a record even more significant than those sported by Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar, who have seemingly been around since Methuselah was turning out for Juventus.
Like Rooney's new role, Raul's game is mainly played behind the striker. He creates space selflessly for others to exploit. And when they don't he does it himself. For years, he was a player Alex Ferguson reckoned was the best in the world. But he was completely overshadowed by his English counterpart here.
The predictions beforehand of a German defence distinguished only by the man standing behind it proved increasingly accurate. Without Manuel Neuer, United could have had six. It was that one-sided. And most of it was down to Rooney.
If ever invited on to the television show 'Room 101', poor Christoph Metzelder, apparently hiding his shame behind a Zorro mask, would consign this whole evening to the bin, wiping his own mental cinema clear of the time Rooney left him looking as if in possession of two wooden legs.
Even the crowd here -- who had greeted Rooney's every early touch with such a barrage of high-pitched whistling it must have worried dogs all the way to Cologne -- had given up even making comment by the time he was substituted. His was the kind of performance that could have silenced Motorhead.
This was his night, his performance to match Roy Keane at this stage of the competition in the Stadio delle Alpi in 1999. Or Paul Scholes in the previous round against Inter. (© The Daily Telegraph)