Wayne Rooney is as confident about Manchester United’s title prospects as the benched captain is about his ability to make a key contribution for years to come.
Three difficult seasons followed Alex Ferguson’s outstanding reign, with Jose Mourinho brought in to give United a shot in the arm after David Moyes and Louis van Gaal’s difficult tenures.
There have been flashes of brilliance and all-too-familiar disappointment under the Portuguese so far, with a poor run of three successive defeats followed by an unbeaten streak that extended to a fifth match in Monday’s tense derby at Liverpool.
United dug in to secure a 0-0 draw that closed the gap to the Premier League summit to five points, helping reaffirm Rooney’s belief that they will be challenging for this season’s title.
“I think we’ve got a great squad,” the United captain said.
“I said before the season we’d be challenging — we’ve still got that belief, even stronger after working with this manager and the players over the last few months.
“I think we’ve got a fantastic squad, who are ready and capable of challenging.”
Rooney believes further positive results over a testing fortnight “can be the start of something” for Mourinho’s men.
Fenerbahce await in the Europa League tomorrow before Sunday’s league trip to Chelsea, where a steely display akin to that at Anfield may be the order of the day.
It was a disciplined display synonymous with Mourinho, and Rooney reckons his philosophy will be fully instilled over the coming months as United look to move on from the Van Gaal era.
“It is a different way of playing, but I think if you’re an individual, it is easy to get (the old style of play) out of your head and learn what the manager wants,” he said. “But as a team it is a bit more difficult, so we knew it was going to take a bit of time.”
Time is something Rooney is having to bide right now.
The forward has started five of the last six matches for club and country as a substitute, but is nowhere near accepting he has reached a point when that is the norm.
“I’d like to think I can play every game, but obviously it’s the manger’s decision and I respect the decision,” he said. “I’ll be ready when needed.
“Not in my mind (do I think I’ve reached the point when I accept only getting 25 games a season). Maybe in other people’s minds but not mine.
“I’m 31 next week. I’ve got a lot of football left.”
Rooney has yet to have any indication whether he will be restored to the starting line-up against Fenerbahce, but waiting to get the nod is not proving disruptive.
Maintaining a “positive attitude” has been key and the 30-year-old rejected the notion that getting back into the starting XI is the biggest challenge of his career.
“I’ve started through all my career, so it is a new period for me and of course I want to play. I just have to keep working and trying to get in the team and my chances will come, I know that, and it is up to me to take them.”
United’s big-name summer signings are still finding their feet. Paul Pogba has rarely lived up to the billing of the world’s most expensive player since returning, but retains the backing of those within the dressing room.
“Paul is a fantastic player,” Rooney said. “I think he’s working hard and he’s doing well. It is a different league to what he’s been used to — he didn’t really play last time when he was here so it is something new for him.
“As always, it takes time to settle. I think he is a fantastic player and he will shine for us this season, there is no doubt.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved