The striker looks back to his best for his country – now he must do the same for the club he tried to leave in the summer
Wayne Rooney is 28 next week, although it seemed entirely fitting for a player who has always seemed ahead of his years that Roy Hodgson managed to get his age wrong in the excitement of beating Poland to qualify for the World Cup finals. The England manager thought he was 28 already and going on 29, an entirely understandable mistake. Rooney appears to have been around forever.
He also seems to have been in dispute with Manchester United forever, or at odds with himself, or unhappy with something going on in his life for as long as anyone cares to remember. That was why it was such a joy to see him dashing around so effectively for England in their past two matches.
Although Steven Gerrard's goal celebrations probably took the biscuit in terms of job-done delight and relief, Rooney's were not far behind. The Manchester United striker was comfortably the pick of England's forward options and deserved his man-of-the-match award, not just for scoring a crucial goal but for chasing back, winning the ball in midfield, spraying first-time passes around to launch attacks and generally doing something useful every time the ball came his way.
Either side of him Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck were wanting in most of those areas. Welbeck was wasteful, Sturridge appeared to lack the sharpness and instinctive finishing that he has been producing at Liverpool. Only Andros Townsend and Leighton Baines rivalled Rooney for effective use of possession in forward areas, and neither of those two would claim to be goal-getters or out and out strikers.
So Rooney is in form, arguably at the peak of his powers if not quite able to effortlessly reproduce the sheer effrontery of his youth, and United supporters must be delighted. Here was a player they thought they might have lost, someone who actually spent time angling for a move elsewhere. Rooney does not care to style himself "the big man" so much anymore but it takes a big man to toy with the affection of Old Trafford, not to mention the manager whose statue adorns the place and who is starting to have streets named after him in Manchester. Rooney did all that and appears to have survived.
For England, at least, he looks like a player back to something like his best. For United, he has still to have the game, yet to put in the performance, that puts the smile back on everyone's face. There is no discernible groundswell of anti-Rooney opinion at Old Trafford, just the opposite, if anything.
Perhaps you do not hear the White Pelé song as often but it has not been mothballed or deleted from the catalogue. It merely awaits a suitable opportunity. Rooney says he has made his peace with the club, that he has no problem with either Robin van Persie or David Moyes, but he needs a celebratory performance to prove it. If Rooney could fire up and inspire United the way he galvanised England against Poland the past would be consigned to history and the future pronounced rosy. All would be well again, and Moyes could set about climbing the league table without worrying about unnecessary distractions.
We left United, if you remember, escaping the bottom half of the table with a hard-fought win over the bottom club Sunderland before the international break. Hard-fought, because without the input of 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in his first start, it was difficult to see where United were going to get the goals to overcome an interval deficit conceded through sloppy defending. This was not one of the games where Rooney and Van Persie clicked, and but for some hesitant Sunderland finishing in the first-half even Januzaj's contribution might not have been enough to get United back into the game.
For a short while, a defeat appeared to be on the way, one that would have made Moyes's life a misery with crisis headlines to endure during the break. Instead, the United manager must have rather enjoyed an opportunity to step back and take stock. He took credit for a bold gamble on an untried youngster, just about got away with a centre-half pairing that kept Rio Ferdinand on the sidelines, and would have been pleased to see that United can still summon the drive to come from behind.
With players of the calibre of Van Persie and Januzaj to call on, not to mention the ever reliable and scandalously unsung Michael Carrick, it is clear that United were only making a temporary visit to the bottom half, whatever their detractors might have hoped.
Whether they visit the very top of the table, in Moyes's first season, seems to hinge on Rooney. Yes, it was Van Persie's strike rate that clinched the title last season, though that trick alone is unlikely to work as well again and other top-six rivals have strengthened over the summer. Last season was a story of several ordinary sides and one extraordinary striker. This season is already shaping up to be more competitive and, having lost three games already, United will not recover lost ground unless they rediscover the team ethos that was their hallmark under Sir Alex Ferguson and the distinctive attribute of Everton under Moyes.
Beginning with Southampton on Saturday, tricky opponents who have lost only one match of their opening seven and sit in fourth place, United need to return to stamping their personality on matches. As the most obvious embodiment of United's spirit and personality, Rooney is key to that.
There are problems elsewhere in the team, notably in defence and midfield, that Moyes will need time and perhaps money to correct but he hopes, and so do most of the supporters, that the Rooney problem is over. If so, good times could be around the corner.
Seeing is believing, however, and Old Trafford does not want to see Rooney excel only for England. Old Trafford famously does not get too excited about England but the fans will not mind as long as England's best player is United's best player too.