'Rooney England's Pele'
Sir Alex Ferguson eulogised Wayne Rooney as Britain's answer to Pele as he challenged Manchester United to find the improvement necessary to knock Barcelona off their Champions League perch.
United launch their latest attempt to land a fourth European crown on Wednesday in Benfica, where Rooney suffered a broken metatarsal at Euro 2004 and returns in arguably the form of his career, with 10 goals in six competitive games so far and his manager praising a new-found maturity in the 25-year-old.
The threat of Rooney inevitably dominated Jorge Jesus's pre-match press conference, with the Benfica coach conceding United's No10 would shape his plans. "Rooney is the best British player but doesn't seem like a British player," Jesus said. "He's like an Argentinian or Brazilian. He can decide the match in the final third and so we have to pay special attention to him."
That prompted Ferguson to doubt Jesus, although not Rooney's potential to be remembered among the greats should he maintain, and indeed improve, his current form. "I think he's a typical British player," said the United manager.
"There have been British players over the last few years, maybe for the last decades, who have similar great qualities that make them great players, whether it's a [Paul] Gascoigne, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law. The similarities are that the boy has great courage, wants to play all the time and has incredible stamina. These are added extras to the talent he has. In terms of a Brazilian, you'd say Pele He was a very aggressive attacker also who could look after himself, so can Rooney. They have similarities that way: strength, speed, determination, but he's white, completely white."