• Forward captained side against Liverpool in Miami
• Rooney: manager gives us a different way of looking at football
Louis van Gaal has seemingly already repaired much of what was “broken” at Manchester United under David Moyes but getting Wayne Rooney playing with a smile on his face has been one of the most important early successes.
The 28-year-old forward completed an impressive tour of the United States and his goal against Liverpool took his tally to five goals in four games amid a display of maturity and authority which proved why Van Gaal was justified in handing him the captain’s armband.
At this stage of his career and with a wealth of experience in the bank, giving Rooney the responsibility of leading Manchester United now Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have left the club seems to fit nicely.
Van Gaal, the arch man manager, appears to have found exactly how to get the best out of his new charges. Inside the United camp players have spoken about the US trip lifting everyone following the ultimately fractious reign of Moyes.
The Dutch coach will return to Carrington this week and make key decisions about a number of squad players who may not have a future at Old Trafford, and the issue of captaincy must also be resolved. Robin van Persie had looked to be the man given the responsibility by his compatriot but Van Gaal has hinted someone closer to home would be a superior choice.
“I am always looking for opportunities to give players the captain’s armband. Today Rooney played 90 minutes for the first time,” said the 62-year-old.
“Fletcher had already done it two times, then he was the captain, and Cleverley because he also had 90 minutes. I think you have [to] choose when it is possible for the English style. That is when it is possible.”
Rooney certainly enjoyed the opportunity and his celebration after levelling the scores on 55 minutes pretty much said it all. But as soon as the striker was asked about Van Gaal’s comments, a club offical bizarrely stepped in and refused to let Rooney answer for himself. He was, however, able to say how proud it made him feel: “Yeah, it was great,” he said.
“We played some good stuff and I think at the end we deserved to win. And it’s always nice to lift a trophy. We’ve worked hard since we’ve been here. We’ve played games against some real top teams. It is still pre-season but I feel like we are progressing well and playing some good stuff.
“I don’t think there have been any psychological blows struck by winning this game. It is still pre-season and both teams still have some work to do before it starts but that is normal.”
With Van Gaal introducing a new 3-5-2 system, there has been much for the players to adjust to but a relaxed Rooney believes it could not have gone any better.
“The players are pleased because we are playing a new system which I don’t think any of us had played before – maybe a couple of the foreign lads – so we have had to work hard in training to try and get the things he [Van Gaal] wants from us on the pitch.
“I think the system suits the team, not only myself. The manager came in and had a look at the players we’ve got. He’s done what he thinks is best suited for our team.
“He’s a tough manager but he’s been great since he came in. He’s given us all a different way of looking at football, which we haven’t had before. It’s been great for us and hopefully that will continue.”
One player who is desperate to impress both manager and fans is Tom Cleverley, the midfielder who became the brunt of fierce criticism during Moyes’ doomed tenure.
“It makes you develop a lot thicker skin. You’ve just got to take it on the chin,” he said. It is football. Fans are passionate and they like to see their team win. And when their team is not they have got a right to look at the team. And, yeah, I got a bit of stick. It does hurt when it comes from your own fans. But, like I said, I’m not going to dwell on it.
“We’ve got a new manager. It’s an exciting new start for the players. And hopefully we can carry this form into the new season.”