Wayne Rooney made a positive impact in United’s dull 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates last night, injecting a bit of class and excitement in the match.

Earlier in the week, Rooney was on the receiving end of some harsh criticism from legend Pele, the namesake of our favourite chant for the striker. It was claimed that Rooney has never fulfilled the potential he appeared to have back in 2004, but I’d argue this is a point of view coming from someone who isn’t afforded the luxury of watching Rooney play for us week in week out!

The stats shown on RoM earlier in the week prove Rooney is becoming more effective with every season he spends at Old Trafford, and his winners medal collection certainly helps confirm it. More than any stats or medals though, just watching Rooney play for United is proof enough to me that he is a top quality player, that makes all the difference to our team.

Whilst there are several players at United who could bathe themselves in all the limelight and adulation that comes their way, Rooney is far happier to take a back seat and sacrifice himself for the sake of our club. Fergie has today conceded that it his willingness to allow Rooney to do this which has cost him the praise he deserves.

“I have to take a bit of responsibility for it,” Fergie said. “He’s sacrificed himself and never complained about it, which says a lot for the lad. He will score goals. He scored a couple against Aston Villa last season after not scoring for seven games and I thought that would have catapulted him into a good run, but we kept using him in different positions. We need to define his role better. I think his best position is through the middle, either a front role or tucking in just behind. He can play either role very well. He is aggressive, has two feet, good pace, he has the courage to get in the box. It’s great credit to the lad that he never complains. Some players know what their best position is and they don’t want to challenge themselves in any other one, but Wayne would play centre half [if he was asked to].”

Players showing their willingness to be versatile is an important characteristic, and one that comes when they have the club at the top of their list of priorities. Roy Keane started in the 2004-2005 season in the centre of defence, Ryan Giggs ended the 2005-2006 season playing as a central midfielder, Owen Hargreaves slotted in at right back on several occasions last season. No player should be ‘too big’ to play this sacrificing role, whereby their performance is likely to be less dazzling, less impressive and less worthy of praise. The club has to come first. Every time Rooney plays out wide, to accommodate the different tactics we’ve employed in Europe, as well as making room for the likes of Ronaldo, Tevez and Nani, he is putting United’s glory ahead of his own, which is admirable.

Can’t praise him enough and I’m glad to see Fergie taking some of the burden of the criticism off Rooney’s shoulders.