Wayne Rooney has backed Manchester United to become a major force at home and in Europe again.
Rooney heads back to the city where he enjoyed the best night of his career this week.
For the United and England captain, Moscow is synonymous with glory. On a sodden night in the Russian capital seven years ago, Rooney and his team-mates defeated Chelsea on penalties to clinch United’s third European Cup.
The venue may be different tonight — CSKA Moscow play in the Khimki Arena, not the Luzhniki Stadium — but the feeling of going back to Moscow remains the same for Rooney ahead of tonight’s Champions League group stage encounter.
The 29-year-old, speaking to the English press aboard United’s chartered flight east, recalled that night in Moscow with a warm smile.
“It was the highlight of my career,” the striker said.
“It is a massive competition to play in, to win the trophy it’s obviously great memories.” It was not such an enjoyable experience at the time. Substituted in the second half, the forward had to watch on from the halfway line, arm in arm with his team-mates, as the penalty shoot-out unfolded 50 yards downfield.
He said: “I have been involved in a few penalty shoot-outs, but it was worse watching it rather than actually knowing you were taking a penalty because when you take one you are focusing on it.
“When you are on the sideline and you have no influence. It’s quite difficult to watch, but it obviously ended great.”
The Champions League has brought Rooney pain in his career too.
He has been on the losing team in the final on two occasions. Last year he had to watch it from the sidelines because of United’s failure to qualify under David Moyes.
Rooney believes those days of disappointment are a thing of the past now.
The former Everton forward is convinced United are starting to become a force to be reckoned with once more under Louis van Gaal.
“We want to get back to winning trophies, of course. That is why you play football — to try and be successful, certainly at this club,” Rooney said.
“In the last few years we haven’t been good enough.
“There has been a big change in the club over the last few years and it’s now starting to settle back down into a good rhythm with what the manager wants from us and we are improving.
“If we keep going the way we are, keep improving the way we are, then we will have a good chance of being successful.”
For his part, CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is hoping to avoid another “horrible” night against United.
The last time United came up against CSKA was six years ago.
United won 1-0 in the Russian capital, but in the opposing fixture CSKA came within a whisker of recording a win.
CSKA established a 3-1 lead over the hosts, but Paul Scholes pulled one back and Antonio Valencia scored in the 92nd minute to snatch a draw for the Red Devils.
“I have some horrible memories because they managed to draw after we led 3-1 and they created a lot of chances,” Akinfeev said.
“I am not trying to diminish Manchester United’s success in any way, but they had a very strong team at that point.
“Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney were there, Edwin van der Sar was the goalkeeper, a lot of stars, so maybe they got scared by the fact they were losing at Old Trafford.” Akinfeev, who has played against Manchester City for the last couple of years, is predicting an “interesting” encounter with United.
“I think this will be a very interesting match,” he said.
“It is always very interesting to play in the Champions League and to try to play our best against the best teams in Europe.”
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