Wayne Rooney’s goal, to paraphrase a famous late English commentator, was good enough not only to win the Manchester derby but the Grand National too. As the 25-year-old Scouser twisted mid-air and sent the ball arching into Joe Hart’s top-corner Old Trafford drew in a collective breath and then exploded with joy.
Great goals, those remembered for generations, are scored by the best players on significant occasions. With 15 minutes to go in one of the most important Manchester derbies since the 1970s, Rooney scored a goal that will play on repeat for decades. Rightly so, despite the bitterness directed at the Manchester United striker from some commentators.
The irony of course is that Rooney didn’t have a particularly effective game against Manchester City. Not for the first time, the former Everton striker’s touch was poor; his confidence seemingly low. Until, instinctively perhaps, Rooney succeeded in executing the impossible with just minutes to go.
There will of course be debates about where Rooney’s goal sits in the pantheon of strikes either for United, of the overhead variety or, indeed, in the list of the greatest ever. It matters little. On a day when once again United underperformed, Rooney produce a moment of such sheer individual brilliance that even Roberto Mancini could do little but concede the genius of Rooney. It is enough that Rooney’s goal will live in the memory for a generation.
Rooney, meanwhile, was modest in his achievement, admitting that the strike was probably his best while downplaying the inevitable hyperbole.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in and it’s definitely the best goal I’ve scored,” Rooney told the BBC.
“It was a special feeling. The fans deserve that from me because I’ve not had the best of seasons. I know how big this game is in Manchester, so I hope they enjoyed that.
“Now the aim is to keep scoring and help us get that title back.”
And there’s the rub. Unless Rooney continues scoring as the season draws to a close, the striker’s brilliance at Old Trafford over the weekend will count for little.
Rooney now has six goals this season, three of them from the penalty spot, in 21 games. By his own admission it has been a poor season from the striker; beset by controversy in the bedroom and outrageous contract demands in the Old Trafford boardroom.
Indeed, his manager Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to put Rooney’s strike in context yesterday, demanding that the forward produce consistent performances home and away.
“I hope that is Wayne back to his best,” said Ferguson.
“But I have to say, what I need to get out of Wayne and Berba are those performances away from home. They have not been as good for us away and it’s a quandary for us because they should be dictating games away from home. If they do, it will make a hell of a difference.”
Of course, Rooney has always been able to score goals of the very highest calibre. What marked a changed last season was the output, with the 25-year-old plundering 34 goals in all competitions before ankle injury against Bayern Munich in march blighted the last few months of his season.
Rooney now has the chance to put right the wrongs of this campaign. As the former Evertonian says – he owes the fans something. But it is not a single goal, albeit a very special one in a very important game. Should Rooney now score the goals that seals a 19th Premier League title come May, or – dare to dream – takes United to the Champions League final at Wembley, that special goal scored on Saturday will be all the more important.
In truth there is little tangible evidence that Rooney is anywhere near his best; the goal an exception that proves the rule. Against City Rooney’s touch was heavy and his involvement limited as United resisted a fierce City challenge. Not for the first time this season the Reds won without convincing the fans.
Yet, special goals are scored by special players. Saturday’s was among the very best. However, the real test of Rooney’s value in what he can deliver for the team this season in the closing weeks.