Jose Mourinho: Wayne Rooney had an easy life at Manchester United
Old Trafford boss insists returning striker is club legend but defensive improvements mean Lukaku won’t match him
Jose Mourinho has claimed Wayne Rooney had things easy at Manchester United, saying the improved quality of Premier League defending is the only reason his replacement, Romelu Lukaku, will not threaten his goalscoring record at Old Trafford.
Rooney returns to his former club with Everton tomorrow for the first time since leaving United in the summer, having scored 253 goals in 13 years since moving from Goodison Park in 2004.
And while Mourinho stressed that Rooney was one of the few players in England who deserved to be described as a legend and insisted he would always be regarded as one of the “most important players in United’s history”, he declared he was helped by the fact Premier League defences were far worse when he first joined the club.
Although Rooney’s influence on the pitch faded with time, he was a vital member of the Alex Ferguson side who won the Champions League in 2008 as well as three Premier League titles. There is no question, though, that he benefited enormously from playing alongside creative players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick at the peak of his powers.
Mourinho, though, also suggested there was another reason Rooney – whose replacement, Lukaku, has scored six goals in as many games for the club – scored so frequently at the start of his United career.
“Wayne arrived much earlier than that (Rooney was 18 when he signed for United),” explained Mourinho when asked whether Lukaku could break Rooney’s record despite being six years older than the Englishman when he signed from Everton for £75 million this summer.
“I think Wayne spent probably 10 years of his career in a different Premier League than you have now.
“A Premier League where it was easier to score goals, not just because of the difference between the top teams and others, but also because of the profile and the tactical interpretation of the competition.
“I think this Premier League is much more defensive minded, and much more difficult.”
Mourinho also added that, if supporters want to give Rooney a warm welcome on his first return to the club after 13 largely successful years in Manchester, to make sure it does not happen during the game.
“I think he’ll get the welcome that he deserves,” said Mourinho, whose side go into this weekend’s fixtures sitting top of the Premier League.
“I think sometimes, in this country, the word legend comes too easily. It is used too easily, but he deserves that title.
“He’s a real legend of the club. The number of appearances, goals, trophies, clearly he’s one of the most important players in the history of Manchester United. I think the stadium will show him the respect he deserves. I hope before the match and after – but not during it.”
Asked whether Rooney had benefited from his move to Everton, Mourinho shut the conversation down, replying: “I’m going to have interrupt that question. He is an Everton player, I’m not going to speak more. He’s a legend, he deserves to be welcomed that way, but during the match he’s an Everton player who will want to win the game.”
Mourinho also tried to rein-in over excitable talk given these are still early days in Lukaku’s United career, but he is delighted with the speed the Belgium international has settled into the team.
“I think he has come here at the right moment,” Mourinho added. “He is a good age. He has a good number of years of experience with different clubs in the Premier League. He is clearly a player who has adapted to the Premier League.
“He has good friends already in the dressing room, and has had an easy integration into our group. The way the team is trying to play has good relation to his qualities as a player.
“So, I think he has come at the right moment of his career.”
Many feel the signing of Lukaku has turned United into title favourites this season, but Mourinho was once again cautious in his response.
He added: “It’s not just about the striker. A striker is very important, but last season we had a very good striker (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) for two thirds of the season and that was not enough to win the title.
“So, it’s not just the striker. I think that Romelu has a better team than Zlatan had.
“Romelu’s team plays different football and the confidence levels are different and it is a team in the second year of its evolution in some aspects.
“But I think he also deserves credit for that because of the way he plays, the way he is committed, what he does with and without the ball, not just the last touch and the goal but his overall contribution. We couldn’t be happier.”
Manchester United v Everton, Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports, 4.0