Rooney fluffs his lines as he blows glorious chance to steal show
Published 10/04/2014 | 02:30
It was a night crying out for a Manchester United hero, someone to drag them out of their mire of mediocrity, an occasion for someone to pull them out of the long siege of Munich and produce something extraterrestrial in Bayern's spacecraft of a stadium.
They had been looking at Wayne Rooney to deliver perhaps the greatest performance of his United career, to conjure up one of those magical moments that might see their team land one of the greatest victories in the club's long and distinguished European history. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead, the one second when United briefly started to truly believe was provided by Patrice Evra marauding forward with unlikely intent and blasting his first-time left-foot strike into the roof of Bayern's net, a strike that changed the whole complexion of this throbbing tie.
Bayern went straight down the other end with Evra, perhaps momentarily having lost his concentration amid the exultation, failing to keep close enough tabs on Mario Mandzukic and allowing the Croat to head home.
Suddenly, it was game on and the game, hitherto a backs-to-the-wall exercise for United, became, briefly, wildly open. Sure enough, Rooney's moment then did arrive and the Allianz Arena held its breath.
With the hour mark having arrived and United by now perhaps for the first time really beginning to believe in a sensation, the number 10 failed to control Danny Welbeck's ball which found him unmarked in the Bayern area.
It was an agonising moment. Whether Rooney had expected Welbeck to go for goal himself is unclear but when the ball was slipped to him, he did not seem prepared. Instead, he ended up complaining that Welbeck had not put the ball where he had asked.
On such moments, games turn. From then on, Bayern, having looked distinctly downcast after United's goal – just a little like the Bayern team that lost the unlosable final in the Nou Camp in 1999 – rediscovered urgency and vigour to respond in the style of champions.
Rooney can never be faulted for effort. He once again tried his heart out but his United, trapped in a largely conservative straitjacket for most of the game against a side they were terrified could pass them to distraction, the artisan could not be the artist.
United's thou shalt not pass stance offered up defiance and fantastic spirit for the most part but it was not the way we have become accustomed to seeing this great club try to win.
We associate United with elan and attacking brio; here, against a side so technically superior, all they had to offer was resilience and heart and the hope that someone against all odds would lead them to what the odd United grandee reckoned rather over-excitedly would be the club's greatest European night. Instead, the brutal truth was obvious; they were not in Bayern's league.
From the halfway line or with a flying bicycle, anything would have been gratefully received from Rooney, especially from those who contend that his career, for all those exceptional moments, has not exactly been distinguished by too many tours de force on the biggest Champions League nights.
Indeed, there are those who will swear that the 28-year-old is one of the great unfulfilled talents, that since that thunderous hat-trick against Fenerbahce on his Champions League debut, he has never dominated those nights in the way that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have.
Say this to foreign coaches, though, and you are likely to be met with incredulity. On the eve of the game, Pep Guardiola was effusive, describing him as one of the best players he had seen in his career.
This, though, is not a happy ground for Rooney. In the first leg of their 2010 Champions League semi-final here, Mario Gomez trod on his ankle, he had to be taken off with ligament damage and ended up leaving the ground on crutches.
This then was to be another night of Champions League frustration for Rooney. Basically, his last big game until the World Cup. (© Daily Telegraph, London)