New chapters in the careers of two of the most dominant personalities in recent Premier League history opened at Old Trafford on Wednesday as Wayne Rooney marked his 12-year Manchester United career with a goalless testimonial draw against his former club Everton.
For Jose Mourinho, an otherwise unremarkable friendly marked his first game at Old Trafford in charge of the club he believes he was long destined to manage.
For Rooney, 30, here were the first tentative steps under his fourth club manager in five seasons and the continuation of a potentially exciting fledgling partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Indeed, while United supporters responded with proper warmth and appreciation to Rooney on a night in which the player’s favourite charities will benefit to the tune of a reported £5 million, there was no doubt which United man was the star attraction.
The comparisons between Ibrahimovic and Eric Cantona have been obvious and oft-made since his summer signing from PSG and there is little doubt that the Swede’s sheer weight of personality and charisma could make him an instant success at Old Trafford.
First, of course, Ibrahimovic must produce on the field, early signs on his friendly debut against Galatasary at the weekend having been more than promising after he scored within four minutes of kick-off.
Ibrahimovic is destined for the lone striker task; Rooney, for the time being, is the logical number 10, playing behind the tall, rangy Swede in the centre of a three-man midfield bank.
This understandably lacklustre contest offered little concrete evidence as to the effectiveness or otherwise of that potential pairing although there were certainly glimpses that breathed life into a relatively dormant crowd.
On 25 minutes, the England captain slipped through a pass which Ibrahimovic took in his stride and saw parried by Maarten Stekelenburg before, later in the half, Rooney’s hanging, long cross was controlled superbly on his chest by the United number nine with the Everton keeper responding quickly to save.
When Mourinho began his wholesale changes, six replacements coming on at the interval, Rooney and Ibrahimovic were two of the five players to remain in play, an indication of their manager’s desire to see that particular pairing click.
However, eight minutes into the second half, Rooney gave way to Marcus Rashford, a substitution that allowed the veteran to bask in an appreciative ovation from the home crowd, and with Rashford more advanced than Rooney had been, Mourinho’s United suddenly switched from 4–2-3-1 to 4-4-2.
Thereafter, Kevin Mirallas wasted the best chance of the night for Everton but, otherwise, the evening belonged to Rooney, a player who has enjoyed and endured a complicated relationship with United supporters, not least because of what have been perceived as two attempts to leave the club in recent years.
Considering he should usurp Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s leading goalscorer of all time some time before Christmas, Rooney has not always been regarded with unreserved warmth around these parts although his agent Paul Stretford used the day to stress his player would like to see out his career at the club.
“Wayne has gone public in stating that he intends to see out his current contract,” said Stretford. “Should Man United make it clear they want him to stay beyond, I think we’ll be sitting down very quickly and ensuring that will happen.”
For Mourinho, his preparations for Sunday’s Community Shield meeting with champions Leicester, their last game before the Premier League season kicks off at Bournemouth a week on Sunday, may yet be interrupted by the long-awaited arrival of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba.
“We are going to sign one more player, that’s for sure,” said Mourinho. “I don’t want to speak about Paul because he is a Juventus player and I don’t like other managers speaking about my players. I don’t speak about their players but the reality is we are going to sign one more player.
“The market closes as you know on August 31 so we have plenty of time to do that but obviously I would like to do it before the Premier League starts.”