Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney returned to the Auf Schalke Arena, scene of one of his most infamous moments of madness, on Tuesday but left with his reputation enhanced after a virtuoso display.
The 25-year-old striker set up the first goal and scored the second after the break as United eased to a 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg win against hapless Schalke 04 and all but booked their spot in the Wembley final on May 28.
It was a happy return to Gelsenkirchen for Rooney, who was sent off for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho when England went out in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink to the Portugal bench after he protested for then United team mate Rooney to be dismissed made all the back pages of the English papers the next day but Rooney will dominate the headlines for his brilliance this time.
“I was delighted with the performance and the victory,” Rooney told Sky Sports as he skipped over questions about 2006.
“First half especially we had some great chances and at halftime we were disappointed not to be in front. I thought we dominated possession and deserved the victory.”
His ill-discipline cost England dear five years ago but back in the same stadium the forward was at the heart of much of United’s good work having well and truly shrugged off the poor form which dogged him earlier in the season.
Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did his best to thwart United until Rooney slipped in a superb pass after 67 minutes through the legs of central defender Joel Matip for Ryan Giggs to beat Germany’s number one.
Two minutes later Rooney latched onto Javier Hernandez’s ball and scored with an easy finish to cap a superb performance that left Schalke’s anonymous forward Raul in the shade.
Rooney was substituted in the 83rd to pats on the back from the bench in the knowledge that he had gone a long way to almost securing a third Champions League final berth in four seasons.
Rooney may not be the finished article in terms of attitude, given his recent foul-mouthed outburst into a television camera which led to a two-game domestic ban, but he has come back from a big blip in form looking stronger than ever.
Maturity is beginning to creep in too, judging by Rooney’s cautious views on the second leg at Old Trafford on Wednesday, where Alex Ferguson is so confident his side will go through that he has talked about possibly resting some players.
“Schalke are a good team and you can’t take them lightly,” Rooney added. “We have seen how they went at Inter Milan (in the quarter-finals) and won 5-2 there. We must do a professional job and reach the final.”
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