Body language says everything not right in Wayne's world
Manchester Utd 4 Wolves 1
On the face of it, Wayne Rooney had more reason than most to break into a smile as he orchestrated Manchester United's cathartic, post-Champions League meltdown victory against Wolves on Saturday.
Two goals to end his 723-minute Premier League goal drought stretching back to mid-September went very nicely with his Euro 2012 suspension reprieve which ensures he will, after all, be free to participate in England's attempt to qualify from Group D next summer.
But all is seemingly not well in Wayne's world judging by his body language throughout the 90 minutes against Mick McCarthy's team.
Rooney greeted both his goals with barely a clenched fist of celebration. As each strike hit the back of the net, it was as though he had claimed nothing but a goal in the final minute of a heavy defeat.
And while every outfield team-mate converged on the near touchline to congratulate Nani on his 18th-minute opener, Rooney cut a solitary figure as he trudged back alone to the centre circle, uttering some kind of complaint to referee Michael Oliver.
Fourteen months have passed since Rooney signalled his aborted attempt to leave Old Trafford by alluding to a lack of ambition at the club, having failed to receive "assurances I was seeking about the future squad".
There is no suggestion Rooney is growing restless again, but as injuries bite and United look out on a horizon that includes Europa League football, it appears the 26-year-old has taken the midweek Champions League elimination harder than most.
Rooney failed to deliver during the 2-1 defeat against FC Basel. He did not do for United what Lionel Messi repeatedly does for Barcelona or what Cristiano Ronaldo achieves regularly for Real Madrid by making the difference between success and failure.
But he did deliver against Wolves. The purpose was back, the back-heeled flicks worked and, crucially, he rediscovered the knack of hitting the back of the net.
And, yet, Rooney was not United's standout performer. The much-maligned Michael Carrick, suspended for the Basel game, was the man of the match for the assurance and, unusually, the drive he brought to United's midfield, but Rooney was not far behind.
United manager Alex Ferguson spoke after the game of his hope that Rooney now hits a run of form which brings a "spurt of goals from Wayne that will take us up to new year."
When Rooney is on form, United are a team capable of beating any domestic rival in England and the end of his goal drought is only likely to be good news for Ferguson and his team.
"Wayne was brilliant," said United midfielder Phil Jones. "Just because he is not scoring doesn't mean he doesn't have an influence on the game.
"The things he does off the ball are terrific as well. People sometimes don't take that into consideration. They look at his goal tally and think he is not doing well, but he has been playing terrifically well for us."
Rooney and Nani, despite their penchant for throwing their arms in the air in displeasure whenever one does not pass to the other, gave United a potent cutting edge and deserved to share the scoring honours.
Nani's first, a powerful run across goal which resulted in a strike from 20 yards, was the pick of the game, but Rooney's opener, nine minutes later, was a similar effort from the edge of the penalty area.
When Steven Fletcher pulled one back for Wolves in the second half after outjumping Patrice Evra at the far post, United's resolve was put to the test, but they responded with Nani and Rooney doubling both their tally, and United's, to secure a 4-1 win.
Wolves and Ireland defender Stephen Ward said afterwards: "They were four unbelievable finishes. Rooney was going away from goal for his first and I don't know how he got so much power into it to beat Wayne Hennessey.
"But when United have got players like that, they can hurt you with any opportunity. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know United are going to come at you here.
"They have some fantastic players in their team and I think the whole of Europe was shocked that they didn't qualify the other night, but I'm sure they are going to concentrate on getting as close to Manchester City as possible.
"As for Rooney, I thought he was outstanding. His performance just shows how valuable getting that ban reduced is going to be for England in the summer."
Rooney and United have work to do before thoughts turn to Euro 2012. If City lose at Chelsea tonight, United could claim top spot with a victory against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Sunday.
Jones added: "There is no point dwelling on it (Basel) and thinking about things and what we could have done.
"We have moved on quickly. Hopefully, we have shown here what we are capable of and what we have to do now is put pressure on City." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.