Wayne Rooney 'fitter than ever' as 30th looms
Wayne Rooney is not short of reasons for reflection as he returns to Moscow for the first time since lifting the European Cup seven years ago, but the Manchester United captain insists that his looming 30th birthday is about contemplating an exciting future rather than a glorious past.
Rooney, who turns 30 on Saturday, will lead Louis van Gaal's team against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League Group B match at the Khimki Arena tonight knowing that a win, while lacking the significance of the 2008 final victory against Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium, would put United on course for the knockout stages.
Having missed United's 1-0 victory against CSKA in Moscow in October 2009 because of the impending birth of his son, Kai, Rooney admits that memories of the greatest night of his career have been triggered by the trip to the Russian capital.
However, with his milestone birth-day prompting widespread assessment of whether he has fulfilled the potential displayed in his teenage years, Rooney insists that he is young enough and fit enough to look forward to more success and achievements.
"I feel good," Rooney said. "It's a big birthday in anyone's life, your 30th. But in terms of me and football, I still feel I am still young enough, and that I have a lot of years ahead of me.
"I have had no major muscle injuries and players now have all the support of sports science, and all the other guys to help us in terms of preparation, training and games, so it's still a fairly young age and hopefully I have got a lot of years to come."
Rooney, speaking to the media during United's flight to Moscow yesterday, insisted that he had no intention of focusing on the finishing line of his career simply because of his imminent birthday.
"I have been playing football a long time and for me, it (30) is a number, it's not important," he said.
"Players in the past have known when the time is right to finish playing and I am certainly nowhere near that stage. I feel fitter and fresher than I ever have done.
"I couldn't sit here and say I am going to play five or 10 more years, but it's something which I have not even thought about."
With United still recovering from the aftershocks of Alex Ferguson's retirement in May 2013, Van Gaal's team travel to Moscow some way short of being expected to emulate the 2008 triumph this season. But Rooney believes that the weekend victory at Everton was proof that progress is now being made at Old Trafford and he insisted that European glory could be targeted.
"The Champions League is a massive competition to play in and to win the trophy, you have great memories," Rooney said.
"I remember watching the penalty shoot-out against Chelsea from the touchline, which was worse than actually taking a penalty, but it ended great for us.
"The CSKA game is a big one because it's a tight group and we are all on three points, so we have to win.
"I am delighted to have won it, but it has been disappointing to lose two finals, so it would be nice if we go on a good run and get success in it again.
"We know the last few years we haven't been good enough and there has been a big change in the club. But it's now starting to settle into a good rhythm with what the manager wants from us.
"We are improving and, if we keep going the way we are, then we will have a good chance of being successful."
The trip to Moscow is in danger of becoming an inconvenient distraction ahead of Manchester City's visit to Old Trafford this weekend.
With United disembarking to sub-zero temperatures at Sheremetyevo Airport following the four-hour flight, Van Gaal claimed that his team would be at a disadvantage in the derby because of the travel demands on them, with City at home to Sevilla tonight.
"They are playing at home and that is a difference," Van Gaal said. "They have more rest." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
CSKA Moscow v Manchester Utd, Live, RTE 2/BT Sports, 7.45