When Wayne Rooney lined up that free-kick against Crystal Palace last week, some Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford zoomed in on the ball with their camera-phones. "Personally, I think it's going to go into the wall,'' one fan could be heard shouting above the hub of expectation as he filmed the scene. Rooney's free-kick rose over the wall and then dipped past Julian Speroni.
"How wrong was I?" laughed the fan. He still managed to keep his hand steady, capturing the celebrations for posting and posterity, even zeroing in on a "Wayne Rooney" banner as if the YouTube audience would need some clarification as to the identity of the star turn.
All around, fans were leaping around. Some downloaded clips, giving a view from the terraces of the wave of emotion initiated by one man who can make a ball do special things. From the outside, there is much legitimate and extensive analysing of Rooney's situation, the chronicling of the summer saga of his desire to leave United, the spotlight on Sir Alex Ferguson's public declaration that the No10 wanted to go and the failed Chelsea bids of July 17 and Aug 5.
From the inside, from the fans' perspective, there is the sheer joy at Rooney's technique and goal. Supporters have inevitably debated his future but such nirvana moments as that free-kick eclipse everything. It is what the game should be about. On-field action, not just off-field talk. Amid all this discourse, Rooney worked hard, slimmed down, scored three times in a week for United and could rescue England and Roy Hodgson next month. Rooney's remarkable gifts in possession need cherishing.
Few goal images this season have been downloaded as feverishly as Rooney's free-kick, the photo opportunity assisted by its set-piece nature. Some of the fans' footage of that Sept 14 goal starts with cameras clutched strongly, trained in the right direction, but then the ball flies in, emotions take control and the lens points all over the place, to the sky, to the floor and backs of jubilant neighbours. "What a goal,'' shouted one fan as he recorded Rooney's strike.
Players occasionally bemoan the camera-phone's intrusive nature away from stadiums but here it was almost a modern means of paying worship, replacing the rattle in the fans' hands. The new match-day routine: veni, vidi, video. Filming continued three days later when Rooney scored twice against Bayer Leverkusen. Again, Rooney's impact on fans was preserved via YouTube on the night he reached the landmark of 200 goals for United. Rooney was asked by ITV's highly-respected reporter, Gabriel Clarke, whether he was now "happy" and did he "ask to leave"? "Listen, I've told you," Rooney retorted. "I'm just concentrating on playing my football."
The 27 year-old looked briefly annoyed by a fair question but then carried on calmly answering the remainder of Clarke's inquiries. It always returns to the football with Rooney. It is what he loves. His satisfaction in his performance, and delight in the fans' appreciation, was obvious. Upstairs, in David Moyes's press conference with German reporters present, the interpreter wanted part of a question clarified.
"Sorry, were they talking about Wayne?" he asked Moyes. Moyes smiled and explained that it was indeed about Rooney. It usually was, he added. Moyes comes out of this saga well; one of his strengths at Everton, man-management, was now seen and praised at Old Trafford. A football man with little liking of media manoeuvres, Moyes focused on the football, on making sure Rooney enjoys the best chance to deliver in a game, namely playing off Robin van Persie.
One summer school of thought briefly discussed whether Marouane Fellaini might thwart Rooney's hope of playing centrally. The versatile Belgian had in the past been used by Moyes behind a striker to good effect for Everton against United. Yet Fellaini's installation in deep central midfield seems to have eased Rooney's defensive duties. He can focus on goal.
Moyes talked to Rooney about becoming a footballing great at United with mention of beating the club goalscoring record of Sir Bobby Charlton, a target now only 50 goals away. Rooney's display against Leverkusen was also acclaimed from a particularly significant onlooker. "He's got his energy back, his purpose to attack," Ferguson told MUTV. Inevitably, Moyes was asked to comment on Ferguson's comment in the light of his predecessor's comment last season about Rooney. Moyes kept his comment simple.
"I think he just saw a Wayne Rooney full of desire, determination, turning and beating people, committed, who scored a couple of good goals, his running for the team," Moyes said. "He spoke as a football man, just saying what he'd seen. I think he said exactly what his eyes told him. I don't think it was an 'olive branch'. Wayne's attitude is that he's a big-game player.
Fans come to see people like him make the difference and hopefully he can do that. He's probably got a bit of a cause in his head that he's going to show everybody." Stars with a cause are invaluable. Speaking subsequently to MUTV, Moyes observed: "When I came I thought he had gone a bit soft. I thought he had to get back to being a bit more aggressive.
We are challenging him to be that at the moment because when he is, he is a handful to play against." That will be music to Rooney's ears. More aggression. More chances. Just let him on the pitch. On Sunday he steps out against Manchester City, victims of his favourite goal, that overhead kick at Old Trafford in 2011. Rooney started the move, Paul Scholes carried it on, Nani crossed and Rooney finished it off acrobatically.
Rooney has still to convince some critics of his ability but he can be a winning mix of power, vision, technique and boldness. "Give him the stage and Wayne Rooney will perform," declared the commentator Clive Tyldesley as United's new boy tore apart Fenerbahce on his 2004 debut. Footage of the teenaged Rooney in the tunnel before kick-off revealed a player hungry for the stage. His hat-trick celebrated his menace with a moving or still ball. For his first goal, Rooney ran on to the ball, scoring with a left-footed shot. He then let the ball run across him, off-putting a defender, before scoring with his right.
Rooney capped his performance with a free-kick through an admittedly fragmenting wall. Since moving to Old Trafford, Rooney's returns for club and country read: 17 goals in 49 games (2004-05); 21 in 58 (05-06); 24 in 60 (06-07); 20 in 48 (07-08); 27 in 56 (08-09); 35 in 56 (09-10); 17 in 46 (10-11); 38 in 49 (11-12) and 23 in 44 (12-13).
After last week, he is up and running again. Goal after goal, season after season. The 2005 volley from 25 yards past Newcastle's Shay Given contained power and a touch of swerve. I once asked Rooney a long-winded question about the technical and mental preparation required for addressing that ball. "I just hit it,'' he smiled.
It was instinct honed during street football. It was not complicated. Many others. The cushioned touch to control Mikael Silvestre's cross and the driven finish past Jens Lehmann against Arsenal in 2006. The lob over Portsmouth's David James in 2007. Special goals. No wonder so many fans film him. As fans sway to Rooney's greatest hits, more noises off could be heard. Chelsea may try again in January. There is also the sensitive issue of Ferguson's imminent autobiography.
Will he expand on his concerns about Rooney last season or give his views on the player's adviser, Paul Stretford? A press conference takes place in Manchester on October 23, the day United host Real Sociedad, and 24 hours before the book is officially published. No newspaper serialisation is planned, a relief for Hodgson as it could have overlapped with England's qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.
Rooney will always be scrutinised with club and country because he makes things happen, he makes pulses race and makes fans point their phones at him when he is about to kick a ball. Let's discuss Rooney, let's dissect his words and examine his body language but, above all, let's enjoy him.