GARY Neville believes Wayne Rooney has turned into a lean, mean, fighting machine.
After receiving a huge amount of criticism for his sluggish display during Manchester United's defeat at Everton on the opening weekend of the Premier League, Rooney has benefited massively from the time off he was forced to take when he suffered a badly gashed thigh against Fulham.
Although he has yet to get off the mark for his club, Rooney has been outstanding in a midfield role behind Robin van Persie and marked his first competitive game as England captain with two goals in Friday's win over San Marino.
And England coach Neville is delighted with what he has seen.
"Rooney is best when he plays like the street kid; fights for every ball, loves playing football, wants to take every free-kick, every throw-in, tackles, heads, fights like he has the passion to win," Neville said. "The last couple of weeks, coming back from injury, I've seen a lean, fit, hungry Rooney.
"He looks like he is up for the next challenge in his career."
Van Persie's arrival at Old Trafford and Danny Welbeck's impressive form means Rooney can no longer be guaranteed a forward berth. Not that Neville necessarily believes that is a bad thing after seeing former team-mates Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes prolong their careers by adapting their approach.
Neville added: "At the age of 26 you always have to think there's more to come. You can't get to the age of 26 and think 'My best years have gone'. He has to challenge himself."