Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rooney's the Man to Illuminate the Night on Benfica's Stage

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rooney's the Man to Illuminate the Night on Benfica's Stage

Article excerpt


THE last time Manchester United went to play Benfica in Lisbon's Estadio da Luz requiring a massive performance to make progress in the European Cup, a 20-year-old kid came to the party with such startling brilliance that he started the trip as a superb footballer and ended it as the sombrerowearing 'El Beatle'.

In a fortnight, United don't expect another 20-year-old to make the sort of era-shaping impact that George Best did on that pioneering night in 1966 when he announced his genius to the world with a celestial performance in the 5-1 win. Yet nearly 40 years on in the new 'Stadium of Light', what would they give for just a couple of moments of Wayne Rooney's own brand of illumination?

Of course, there can never be anyone to compare to Best.

Yet as all the prayers at Old Trafford last night were directed towards his recovery, perhaps even the elder Stretford End brethren may, poignantly, have been left wondering if the Theatre has witnessed a more dreamy talent in red since Georgie's heyday than this boy.

Okay, so that talent last night wasn't quite enough to break the deadlock against Villarreal nor stop the Lisbon trip looking for all the world a must-win affair.

Yet it was still dazzling enough amid yet another laboured United Champions League slog that even his senior team-mates are now trusting in a lad only out of his teens last month to be the man to deliver in Lisbon.

"With him in the side, anything is possible," Rio Ferdinand enthused.

"It's there for everyone to see, isn't it? The impact he's made, not just for his club but his country. I don't think we'd swap him for anybody in the world." Wow, some compliment considering that Ronaldinho had just painted another masterpiece at the Nou Camp for Barca against Werder Bremen.

Of course United wouldn't swop Rooney because, as the odd Irish flag bearing the visage of a recently departed wild-eyed rover reminded us, Old Trafford, suitably flat last night compared to its buoyancy during the Chelsea

win, hasn't been in such urgent need of a hero for many a moon. …

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