To mark the 10th anniversary of RoM, there will be several articles remembering some of the best moments for Manchester United fans over the past decade. Doron Salomon has spoken about one of his favourite memories.
Quite simply it was one of football’s great goals. There’s a temptation to package up moments and achievements within eras, measuring them against similar events from their time-period. But Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick to win the Manchester derby in February 2011 transcends all of that. Even in the short time that has elapsed since, it’s not too soon to suggest it can only be acknowledged as one of the most iconic goals ever scored.
There are stories intertwined with this game that have almost been forgotten such was the shock and awe around that now infamous winning goal. Manchestery City, on an iffy run of form, had the chance to close the gap on United down to two points. United came into the game off the back of a shock defeat at Wolves – their first of the season in the league putting an end to any ‘Invincbles’ suggestions.
This was also the season that Rooney’s relationship with the fans started to fray. In October he asked to leave before eventually signing a new contract. Still today there are fans who’ve not forgiven him but in hindsight, some may reluctantly admit that Rooney’s fears about a lack of investment and ambition were spot on. Although the 2010/11 season came in between two very fruitful goalscoring seasons, it was arguably the start of Rooney’s decline, or at the very least it offered the first indications that something wasn’t quite right in his game.
There are other, almost forgotten, stories that emerged during what had been quite a dull, low quality game. Nani’s opening goal was brilliantly taken, worthy of being remembered in any derby match. Then there was Chris Smalling, making only his fourth league start for the club as a 21 year old. His performance to keep Tevez quiet was phenomenal, one of the best Old Trafford has seen by a rookie centre back and yet like Nani’s strike, it’s just part of the smallprint in this narrative.
Despite an ankle injury restricting Rooney’s playing time, it took until January for him to score his first goal in open play. In general United had been playing with two strikers up front but for this game, both Berbatov and Hernandez found themselves benched, with Rooney trusted to do the business alone. He’d had a frustrating game, no chances to score and often pinned back deep towards the centre of the pitch, making life easy for Kompany. When Berbatov was brought on with just over 20 minutes left United had a bit more impetus. Even in the build up to the winning goal you see Kompany drawn out of position as United’s forwards started to make more runs. In that same move you see a great indication of what Rooney was battling with that season – a ball is played into him and it does take a nasty bounce but Rooney’s unable to react and his miscontrol sees the ball bounce backwards and very nearly take the momentum out of the move. That bad touch actually ends up starting the move that finishes with the moment of genius this short piece is all about. Along with the deflection on Nani’s cross that wrong-foots Kompany, it was a great piece of fortune.
I had no idea quite how good the goal was until some hours after the game. On that ocassion I was watching from a seat at pitch level opposite the old tunnel. I remember seeing Rooney fly through the air and the ball had gone in. It was all a bit of a blur and without the benefit of big screen replays at Old Trafford you never quite know what’s really happened until you watch Match of the Day (or today get some signal to look on social media). In the immediate aftermath it became clear that lots of people at the game had no sense of just how good the goal was. It had happened so quickly that everyone had a slightly different version of how it had gone in and what part of Rooney’s body had scored it.
Of course with the benefit of replays… wow!
Instinctive goals are brilliant usually because they’re scored in the only manner that was possible at that moment. This overhead kick was about as unique as they come. It wasn’t one he’d set up for himself with chest control; it wasn’t even at a height that obviously lent itself to any kind of connection. The speed at which Rooney’s instincts reacted to the change in shape of the cross were so out of keeping with his season. The connection was sweet, timed to perfection. Whether it came off part of his shin or not seems completely irrelevant because the ball flew so true off his leg/foot into the goal. It’s hard enough to meet a ball perfectly when it’s coming at you from a 90 degree angle on the ground but to do it whilst your body is contorted and near enough upside down mid-air is a freak occurrence.
There does seem to be an attempt to downplay this goal and moment by United fans because of who scored it and the context of the season he’d had but it’s impossible to not acknowledge its greatness. A goal to win a derby match, a goal to effectively end a title challenge, a goal that will be come to represent this era of football and the career of England and (more than likely) United’s highest scorer of all time. Even without the sub-stories and the context it stands out as a moment of spontaneous genius. It defied the season of the man; it defied the quality of the game; it defied rational thought in that moment. I doubt anyone in the stadium that day will ever see a better live goal.