Anthony Martial was United’s headliner at Wembley, scoring an injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory which sent Van Gaal’s team to the final and adds another dimension to the debate over whether the Dutchman or Jose Mourinho will be in charge next season.
However, Rooney’s performance as United’s ‘quarterback’ — he was able to not only dictate the pace of the match but also provide penetrative passes to unleash a young and pacy front three of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard — was also a talking point amongst supporters who have been complaining for years that legend Scholes has never truly been replaced.
The United captain looked assured, comfortable and tactically astute in a new position, cleverly dropping back to provide more space for a trio of players who are rapidly moving ahead of him in the battle to play further upfield.
“I’ve played there a few times throughout my career, I know I can play it,” said Rooney.
“I’ve watched Paul Scholes play that role for years and I always knew that one day it was where I would play.
“It allows me to get on the ball and I can free other players up too. We have a lot of pace in the team now and I feel I can read the game very well, whether to go forward or stay back and make space for the other lads.”
Despite a lack of recent success, that link between the legends of the past and the young players of the future is something United still have in their favour, something other clubs have failed to develop.
Arsenal have allowed influential figures such as Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp to move on to coach at other clubs, Liverpool failed to keep Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher, Chelsea will lose John Terry this season and have already seen Frank Lampard disappear.
But United still have that link to greatness through assistant manager Ryan Giggs — and now Rooney can also be a conduit as he passes on advice to United’s young stars.
“Of course, you try and do that and help them,” he said.
“We all have to win together. When I joined the club at 18 I think Giggsy was about 30 and I remember the help and advice he gave me. I’m happy to do that too.
“It’s early days for them, especially for Rashford who hasn’t played many games, but the impact he’s had for us in the last couple of months has been brilliant.
“Anthony has done really well too. He’s scoring goals and you can see he’s enjoying his game, especially in the last few weeks.”
Van Gaal may not be there to see his team develop — rumours persist that Mourinho will be appointed even if United win again at Wembley in May — but winning a trophy could nevertheless play a huge part in the development of a young team which showed glimpses of its potential on Saturday.
The interplay between Lingard, Rashford and Martial was excellent, bolstered by the hard work of Marouane Fellaini and the technique of Rooney and Michael Carrick, who provided much-needed experience behind them.
United were dominant in the first half, going ahead when Martial set up Fellaini, but Everton’s revival after the break was rewarded by a Chris Smalling own goal — and they also missed a penalty when Romelu Lukaku’s effort was superbly saved by David de Gea.
Those efforts proved fruitless, however, as Martial eventually secured victory with an excellent finish in injury-time.
Everton — whose own manager Roberto Martinez is now under huge pressure — can be proud of their second-half display which made for an enthralling and entertaining tie.
But the focus is naturally on United and how the result affects the future at Old Trafford.
“It would be massive for us to go to the final and win,” said Rooney.
“It’s almost a new squad of players for us and hopefully it would be the start of winning more trophies. That’s what we’re hoping for. We haven’t had it easy over the last couple of years. But I’m sure if we can win this cup it would be a huge stepping stone for us.”
Robles 6, Besic 5, Stones 7, Jagielka 6, Baines 6; Gibson 6 (Mirallas 90), McCarthy 6; Lennon 6 (Deulofeu 70; 6), Barkley 6, Cleverley 6; Lukaku 6
De Gea 8; Fosu-Mensah 6 (Valencia 62; 6), Smalling 5, Blind 7, Rojo 6; Carrick 7, Fellaini 8 (Herrera 87); Lingard 7, Rooney 8, Martial 8; Rashford 7