So often the leading man, Wayne Rooney took centre-stage at the Theatre of Dreams, producing a stellar display in midfield to lift Manchester United top of Group C of the Champions League.
The recently retired Paul Scholes, so often the playmaker here, never resembles the most comfortable of spectators but he looked on admiringly.
Many inside Old Trafford believe the centre will eventually prove Rooney’s best position, sweeping the ball around like Scholes.
Half-close the eyes and it could have been Scholes spraying those crossfield passes. It was not simply the accuracy of Rooney’s delivery that impressed. It was the vision. Rooney clearly carries pictures in his head, almost a running movie of where his team-mates are so he can find them first-time.
Even taking into account the modest nature of the opposition, Rooney was exceptional, constantly eluding his marker Ioan Filip, picking out team-mates with perfect passes and working tirelessly in seeking to break up Galati’s intermittent attacks. He pulled the strings for United and cut Galati’s.
“I played there a lot when I was younger,’’ Rooney told Sky Sports.
“It’s a position where you get a lot of the ball. I am a good enough footballer to play anywhere on the pitch and that is not just being big-headed. I am capable of doing that so if the manager wants me to do it I will.”
Good performances were also delivered by the excellent Phil Jones while David de Gea made one magnificent save but the headlines belonged to Rooney.
“Rooney was our best player and showed great awareness of that role,’’ said Sir Alex Ferguson. “His selection of passes was really good. He showed great energy and determination so we got a great performance out of him tonight. He has all the qualities you would need to be a central midfield player.’’
The stats backed Ferguson up: of Rooney’s 18 passes over what Uefa call “long” distance, 14 found their intended target while 61 of 68 “medium” passes were successful (and 13 of 14 “short”).
One of his passes midway through the first half paraded his ability to conjure something special under pressure. As Galati players crowded around, Rooney disguised his intentions, tricking the Romanians into believing he was looking for Antonio Valencia on the right before slipping the ball through the middle to Dimitar Berbatov.
Ferguson has been looking for some match-winning magic from a midfielder, a destroyer of defences with a killer pass from the middle third. It was why he looked at Wesley Sneijder in the summer before the club baulked at the cost. Another average performance from Anderson highlighted United’s lack of a high-class central midfielder.
Neither Darren Fletcher nor Michael Carrick, although capable in their own way, can run a midfield.
Rooney’s versatility helps Ferguson address this midfield issue, although the manager stressed that he thought Rooney’s redeployment “is a short-term thing at the moment”. He remains United’s most potent centre-forward, although Ferguson still has options in this area.
Javier Hernandez came on for Michael Owen, who injured a thigh muscle after 11 minutes, to partner Berbatov. The Bulgarian failed to score but looked lively, particularly enjoying the silver service from Rooney. Danny Welbeck, so highly rated by Ferguson, was kept in reserve.
Rooney still has elements of the role to learn. He was caught out a couple of times by sudden surges from Galati, particularly from Cristian Neagu. If his positional nous requires sharpening, his effort was immense. His sweat-soaked shift was rewarded late on, a strike from range that was granted a generous deflection to take it into the Romanians’ net. Uefa, after some deliberation, gave it as an own goal to Cristian Sarghi.
The England manager, Fabio Capello, who was sitting a few rows in front of Scholes, could have been forgiven for feeling frustrated as well as impressed, knowing that Rooney is suspended for the group stage of the Euros. Rooney had shone from the start, triggering the move that led to United’s eighth-minute opener with a superb pass to Berbatov, who quickly sent the athletic Jones away down the right.
Owen, sliding in, just failed to connect with Jones’ cross at the near post but the ball carried to Valencia, who made no mistake from close range. As all but the small knot of visitors amongst the 74,847 celebrated, it was impossible to escape the presence of a sizeable contingent of local schoolchildren. This was squeaky-voice time.
If they had come to admire Rooney, he did not disappoint. Nor did United’s full-backs, Jones and Fabio, who were in full overlapping mode.
But the ball stayed on its mission to spend time with Rooney. Like a conductor at the Halle, Rooney kept dictating the tempo, releasing Nani and then Rio Ferdinand. The centre-half was exposed for pace just before the break by Ionut Neagu. De Gea would not be beaten, stretching out a hand to repel Neagu’s strike.
Berbatov wasted a couple of chances to put the game beyond the Romanians’ reach and Old Trafford could breathe easy only three minutes from time. Rooney let fly from 25 yards out, the ball catching Sarghi and wrongfooting Grahovac. “Rooney, Rooney” thundered around the ground.