Ferguson hails 'unbelievable' performance of Red Devils'
From the boys in the black stuff -- Manchester United's away kit -- it was a moment of pure genius. A goal from the gods; the acme of the most precious of modern-day tactics, the counter-attack. And it was scored by Wayne Rooney. It was also his 100th goal in the Premier League. And, like his first, it was struck against Arsenal.
Back then, in September 2002, Rooney was a teenager, a man-child of frightening precocity, who marked his arrival with a stunning shot to beat David Seaman. "I thought he was only supposed to be 16," Arsene Wenger had said. He was.
Now Rooney is 24 and, in his programme notes -- not normally a place to find praise for opponents -- the Arsenal manager was unstinting in his appreciation of "a great player".
Maybe Wenger tempted fate by stating that Rooney had now added goals. He added another yesterday -- 22 for the season -- and it was a blur of brilliance; a knife to Arsenal's throat. A handful of seconds elapsed from when William Gallas was crowded out in the United penalty area to when Rooney swept the ball past Manuel Almunia.
It was reminiscent of a goal United scored in this stadium last season -- in the semi-final of the Champions League -- and, then, Rooney had combined brilliantly with a Portuguese winger in colourful boots. On that occasion it was Cristiano Ronaldo who scored; this time Nani, a player transformed, turned provider, weighting the ball superbly.
It was the breakneck, determined run that made the finish, the hunger and desire to make Nani's task easier. As Rooney darted forward he was on a mission. He has a relentless, aggressive running style, full of threat and menace. And he left Denilson in his wake. Scary.
Rooney demonstrated precisely why United are preparing to offer him the biggest contract in the history of the club. Unlike Ronaldo, the England forward cannot wait to sign it.
Ferguson refused to elaborate on Rooney's contractual situation, but David Gill, the chief executive, revealed that the club will open negotiations with his advisers in the summer. Despite their debt, United will offer Rooney a new five-year deal worth £150,000 a week to keep him out of the clutches of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
"Unbelievable," said Alex Ferguson of Rooney's performance. "I think he was the key player for us. They just could not handle him." It was undeniable.
Wenger had said he hoped Arsenal would show they were a "different animal" from the one destroyed by United last season. They may well be. But they were pussycats in the face of Rooney's leonine performance.
Thierry Henry had said, pre-match, that Rooney last season was a "crazy man" -- an echo of Fabio Capello's ribbing of the striker -- but no longer. Rooney is on top of his craft, knowing when to run and when not to, but working no less hard. Just working smart instead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)