Reaction after second-half goals from Ander Herrera and Angel di Maria gave Manchester United a 2-0 win at Yeovil Town on Sunday in the third round of the F.A. Cup.
With his team having played two games in three days, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal described the second half of the 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hostpur as a "struggle for life," after the teams clashed in the English Premier League.
What a difference time can make. When Wayne Rooney was last forced into a regular midfield role during the run to the Premier League title in 2012-13, he threatened to leave Manchester United. Now, he is the star performer in Louis van Gaal’s rejuvenated outfit.
The Dutchman’s repositioning has been rewarded in fine style, Friday’s brace in the 3-1 victory against Newcastle United making it four goals in his last five matches.
The 29 year old is carrying huge responsibility for his club, wearing both the captain’s armband and adapting to life away from being a main-line striker. From floating behind Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao against the lesser lights to digging in against Liverpool and Arsenal from a deep-lying position, Rooney has been a revelation as United emerge from their spell in the wilderness.
His perfectly-timed runs from deep have mirrored club legend Paul Scholes, while the Merseysider’s aggression and vision has given purpose to a part of the Untied side that has not functioned properly for six years.
The transformation was not as smooth last time. An increasingly combustible relationship with then manager Alex Ferguson and the threat from star signing Van Persie aligned to make Rooney feel unwanted. A transfer request was revealed by the Scot and denied by the player. Rooney cared little for hiding his unhappiness.
Cut to 2014 and Van Gaal has worked wonders since inheriting a rabble from David Moyes’ spell in charge, a run of seven wins from eight games making a return to the Champions League seem likely. His greatest achievement could yet be his management of Rooney.
From when the Dutchman was announced as the first United boss from outside the British Isles, whispers abounded about their potential relationship.
Van Gaal had clashed with rebels such as Rivaldo at Barcelona and Franck Ribery and Luca Toni while at Bayern Munich. With his new key man boasting a similar background of huge achievements on the pitch and questionable attitude off it, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
This view ignored the core principles behind Rooney, a selfless footballer often happy to perform a role for the side to the detriment of his world-class talent.
For example, his support slot to Cristiano Ronaldo propelled United to Champions League and Premier League success in 2007-08.
Rooney has to see the greater good before acquiescing. He appears to have huge faith in Van Gaal’s methods during his opening months at Old Trafford.
The change in management and Rooney’s personality seem to be at the centre of the evolution.
Ferguson never did forgive the player for his aborted transfer request in 2010, the pair enduring a number of disciplinary duels before the Scot’s exit in 2013.
But Van Gaal has given Rooney a clean slate, rewarding a fantastic pre-season with the captaincy. The brat has been drained away from Rooney, who at 29 now has the experience and maturity to re-position serenely.
The link up with Juan Mata is improving by the match, the eventual return of Angel Di Maria sure to provide further ammunition for Van Persie and Falcao. The smile has returned to Rooney’s face under Van Gaal. A once unlikely relationship is blossoming at the Theatre of Dreams.