We can all name the United greats, but when were they at their peak? In a new series for United Review, we select the seasons when they truly excelled - focusing here on a certain Wayne Rooney.
His conscientiousness meant he spent many of his early years at Old Trafford performing various roles, but seldom in his preferred slot of centre forward.
When Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez departed in the summer of 2009, a ready-made solution was obvious to all.
“Losing those two took a lot of goals away from the team,”reflected Rooney.
“I knew I’d have to score. We just knew that we had to work hard and find a new way of playing.”
With Nani on the left wing and newcomer Antonio Valencia on the right, that fresh approach was simple, but usually unplayable.
Rooney would drop deep to start attacks, work the ball wide and motor into the area to meet the return cross from either side.
By the end of August, his five goals in as many games had taken him past the 100 marker in his United career, and the hallmarks of a line-leading striker were all there, adding headers and penalties to an already rich finishing repertoire.
By the turn of the year, Rooney had reached 15 goals from 23 appearances in all competitions, but it was in January that he truly kicked into overdrive. A four-goal haul against Hull City sparked a run of scoring in 10 out of 12 games, yielding a total of 18 goals, half of which were headers.
In that period, Rooney netted the unforgettable last-minute League Cup semi-final winner against Manchester City, another to win the final against Aston Villa, the club’s Goal of the Season at Arsenal and a breath-taking headed double at AC Milan to secure United’s maiden victory at San Siro.
But while opponents struggled to stop Rooney’s staggering run, it was undone by his own diligence; his frenzied late backtracking at Bayern Munich leading to an awkward fall and an ankle injury which decimated the final six weeks of his season.
Though United narrowly missed out on a fourth straight Premier League and were undeservedly ousted from Europe by Bayern, Rooney’s contribution earned the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards
“This has been the best goalscoring period of my career,” he surmised.
“You just feel like every time you run out on the pitch, or every time you’ve got the ball near goal, you’re going to score. It’s a feeling every striker strives for.”
*This feature first appeared in United Review.