'The players have to stand up' - Wayne Rooney hits out at former team-mates as he backs Jose Mourinho
Wayne Rooney has thrown his support behind his embattled former manager Jose Mourinho, telling those Manchester United team-mates he once played alongside that they have underperformed in recent weeks and must take their share of the responsibility.
Rooney was speaking as Mourinho waited for a public show of faith from the United board but United's record goalscorer insisted that the recent run of poor results, which led to one unsubstantiated report that Mourinho would be sacked, had reminded him of the difficult times during Louis van Gaal's two-year reign at the club.
"It's tough (at United), it has been a tough situation," Rooney said. "The players, the manager, it has been a tough start to the season. I know Jose is getting a load of stick but I said a few weeks ago, the players have to stand up. They have to be counted and they have to be better.
"The manager can do so much but then it is down to the players on the pitch to produce, and probably collectively. It (the poor run) is a bit of everything coming together but Jose is an easy target. Some of the players have to be better.
"I said the same thing when Louis van Gaal was there. He took a lot of stick but behind closed doors I said to the players, 'We have to be doing better'. Personally, I think he (Van Gaal) set us up brilliantly but we didn't produce on the pitch, so I am sure that is getting said behind the scenes."
Rooney was speaking after leading his new Major League Soccer side DC United to a ninth victory in 15 games. Their new captain scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire on Sunday.
On the reasons behind his old club's indifferent season, Rooney said: "It's a young team, different pressure, quite a lot of those players maybe haven't faced this before and they maybe haven't got the senior players which I had there as a young player to help in those difficult moments. There are not enough of them to help you through it."
Rooney's effect at DC United, who have four regular-season games left this season, means that they are in contention to make the play-offs. Seventh in the 11-team Eastern Conference, they can claim to be one of MLS's form teams. Although Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls are vying to win the Supporters' Shield - the trophy given to the league winners - the run of form from DC United will make them an interesting proposition in the MLS Cup at the end of the season if they can make the play-offs.
Rooney said he was still eager to win more in spite of the 11 major trophies he achieved at United in domestic and European competition. "You feel more the ones you lose than the ones you win. You win and you don't think about that. When you lose, you think you can do more, which sticks with you."
Looking back on the two Champions League final defeats against Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, Rooney said that he believed that he was up against the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi.
"If we had been against any other team but Barcelona you would have fancied us to win those games. In my eyes, they are the best team ever and Messi is the best player ever. What he does is incredible."
On the comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney was clear that he believed Messi had become the pre-eminent player of his generation.
He said: "Different players, obviously, but Messi has just got a bit of everything. Ronaldo has gone from a winger to a striker and a goalscorer rather than taking players on all the time. He has gone more one or two-touch and getting in the box and scoring goals, whereas Messi has a bit of everything. You see him scoring goals from playing a deep midfield role at times. [There are times when] I'm probably still walking on the pitch and he's scoring. So, he is probably the best."
On the challenges facing young players in the modern age, Rooney said that the effect of social media on players' mood was significant. "When you are younger, it is more difficult to deal with, but that's the way it is.
"Especially now, for some of the players, they are looking at the social media and they are getting down because whether they play well or not, they are going to get people saying bad things. So, the players have to understand, as I've always said, listen to your coaches and team-mates, as they are the ones who are honest with you. Whatever else gets said - take out what you want." (© Daily Telegraph, London)