Wayne Rooney is Manchester United's on-field force and is becoming a leader who now calls the shots in the dressing room, according to David Moyes. The manager offered the insight after another display of total football from the England forward, who drove United to this smoothly impressive victory over struggling West Ham.
With Robin van Persie out for another three weeks due to a thigh injury, there had been a nervy wait for the medical bulletin on Rooney, whose availability was in doubt due to a groin strain. When the team sheet arrived the Liverpudlian was in the XI and United and their opponents knew that if he prospered there would probably be only one winner. Ninety minutes later and Rooney had offered yet another of those all-action exhibitions that put him in a class alone.
"Wayne played great," said Moyes. "He dropped in and he took the ball. He passed the ball from a little bit deeper at times but also made a contribution in the goals. It was very good."
Rooney's judgment is among his key assets and the simple pass that created Danny Welbeck's opener was the latest illustration. That was on 26 minutes. As the contest entered its closing moments following further goals from Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young, Manchester United were coasting.
While Carlton Cole's late consolation was a mere irritation for Moyes, who wanted a fourth consecutive clean sheet, he said of his main man: "Do you know what I see more than anything in Wayne? I see leadership. I see somebody who wants to take responsibility for the team. I see somebody who cares for how he plays and how the team plays. More than anything, that is what I see from Wayne.
"Maybe if he is not quite at the top of his form I will need him to drop in at times and he has no problem doing any of the jobs. He is getting to an age now where he realises he is not a boy any more. He is one of the senior men in the team. He is actually on the verge of being one of the great legends at this club.
"Because of that I think he is saying, 'I have got to take responsibility for results and for performances and make sure the players are doing it on the pitch.' The players are responding."
Beyond the creativity and consistent goal threat of Rooney – he has 10 this term – is the influence offered off the pitch. "In the dressing room now Wayne is one of those who is beginning to call the shots," Moyes said. With Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand not featuring in the squad, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans again impressed, as they had in the League Cup win at Stoke City in their previous outing. As Moyes also has Phil Jones, who operated convincingly in midfield, as his fifth centre-back, the Ferdinand-Vidic axis faces serious competition.
Moyes said: "Chris and Jonah [Jones] and Jonny, they have stepped up.
"I have given them opportunities and they need to keep showing me what they can do. It is not a change yet [from seniors to the young players] because I have used Vida and Rio at times.
"But I just think we have good young centre-halves and young centre-halves tend to get better with age. We need to try and get them the games to develop them, because when it is the old ones' time to move on then we need to have players who are ready and committed to take their place.
"Jonny Evans has played well. I said to him I don't think he started the season well. But he has grown into it and is playing very well. We will keep changing them around because we have five good centre-halves. We will use them at different times. That is what has been done here before and I will continue to do it."
The sublime way Januzaj hesitated to place James Collins on the seat of his shorts before the forward slotted beyond Adrián was the latest reminder of the 18-year-old's precocious gifts.
"He is a special talent and we have to bring him on at the right time," said Moyes. "He has played quite a lot of games. But the reason he has played is that he has warranted it and merited it by his form. He has creativity and something that is different."
Januzaj is yet to decide which nation to represent – England or Belgium – which is fine by Moyes. "I think Januzaj has said he has picked Scotland," he joked. "For me, I am quite happy because it means we have him longer and he is not away. We can influence him while he is here. But I am sure he will make his own decision."
Man of the match: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)