Rooney’s maturity can aid United’s glory bid

Twelve months after his World Cup flop, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is ready to “stand up and be counted”.

This time last year, Rooney was being compared to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, whom he will face in the Champions League final at Wembley tonight when Manchester United take on the Catalan club.

Instead of confirming his status as one of the best players on the planet at the World Cup, the man who scored 34 goals for United had a nightmare, failing to score a goal, and his most notable moment in South Africa saw him castigate the England fans for booing their team off in Cape Town.

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A prolonged period in the doldrums followed, from which Rooney has not long emerged.

But when yesterday he finally made his way off a pitch he knows so well and made a point of shaking hands with Joel, Avram and Bryan Glazer, he did so as a man at the very top of his game.

“When we have needed Wayne to stand up and be counted he has always been there on most occasions,” said Rio Ferdinand.

“People talk about big occasions. I think of the (Manchester) City game when he scored one of the best goals you will see at Old Trafford.

“I don’t need to go through the times and occasions he has done that.”

Rooney has benefited most from the emergence of Javier Hernandez, who has scored 20 goals in his debut season so far and is ahead of joint Golden Boot winner Dimitar Berbatov in the queue for a starting place.

Either as a main striker, out wide or dropping deeper, as he has done most recently, Rooney has produced moments of genius. Faced with a Barcelona side containing Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, United need someone to produce a dazzling performance.

Rooney has the capability. Not that Ferdinand feels he has anything to prove.

“Wayne can show his worth anyway regardless of what happened last summer at the World Cup or what happens (today) at Wembley,” said the former England captain.

“We have 100 per cent trust in all our players.”

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has noted increased maturity in the 25-year-old’s performances.

A willingness has always been there. Two years ago in the Champions League final in Rome, Rooney operated wide on the left because Cristiano Ronaldo could not be trusted to track back. He performed the task without complaint.

Indeed, his only outward sign of irritation came in October when he handed in a transfer request, mainly due to the lack of assurances he received about future signings and fears about the future.

At the time, his apprehension seemed plausible. Now, with United crowned Premier League champions for the fourth time in five seasons, and in their third Champions League final in four, they look silly.

“We have players who will like this stage,” said Ferguson. “Wayne Rooney is more mature now than he was in 2009.”

Rooney is guaranteed a starting berth tonight. Indeed, it has seemed obvious for three weeks now what Ferguson’s starting XI will be.

But the Manchester United manager is rarely so predictable.

There is an option at right-back, where the additional height of John O’Shea could be used ahead of Fabio or Rafael.

Hernandez’s place would be at risk if Ferguson opts to bring Anderson into midfield.

If fit, Darren Fletcher could also fulfil the terrier role. Today we will find out whether his failure to play any part in Gary Neville’s testimonial on Tuesday night was due to the virus that affected him for so long, or gamesmanship on Ferguson’s part.

Antonio Valencia seems like the obvious candidate on the right flank. However, Nani brings greater individual flair and his abilities are well recognised within the United dressing room.

Both United and Barcelona are looking to join Bayern Munich and Ajax on four European Cup triumphs. “Many people would agree it is the final of the decade,” said Ferguson. “The success of both teams in the last decade has been enormous. The attraction of two great teams with great history is obvious.

“It is an appealing final in terms of what could happen in the game. There could be a lot of goals, there could be a lot of excitement and there will be a lot of good football, I am sure of that.

“It is set up. The platform is there. Hopefully it turns out that way.”

Ferguson admits that mistakes may have been made before the 2009 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, but that they have been rectified ahead of tonight.

United lost 2-0 in Rome as they looked to become the first team to defend the European Cup in the Champions League era, but Ferguson insisted revenge is not on the agenda.

“We were disappointed we lost the game but it isn’t a matter of revenge, it is about our own personal pride,” he said. “We are very focused this time and our preparation has been better. I think we maybe made one or two mistakes last time, but not this time.”

The Red Devils wrapped up a record 19th domestic title against Blackburn two weeks ago and Ferguson revealed the time since has been used to prepare for this weekend’s final.

“The players, they have to trust themselves and trust each other because I trust them,” he added.

Captain Nemanja Vidic said it was an honour to lead United into the final in his first season as full-time captain, but that the preparations for facing Barcelona have been the same as those for any other game.

“Obviously I’m very honoured to be the captain at such a big club and to lead the team to big games, but if you finish the season without the trophy you’re not satisfied,” he said.