Soon after Moyes’ appointment as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, but before he had officially taken charge, Moyes invited Rooney to his house on the outskirts of Preston to discuss his future at the club.
Moyes made it clear from the outset that whatever Rooney’s differences had been with Ferguson, he wanted to keep him at Old Trafford.
But he gave a pretty damning assessment of what was wrong with Rooney’s game – and why Ferguson had dropped him on several occasions.
“Before I’d actually come in here, I’d met Wayne privately a couple of times, to talk about his situation, to try to understand, so when I got in I knew where Wayne was,” said Moyes yesterday.
“I remember when he came to see me. He came up to my house. I said to him, ‘I’ve watched you, I’ve not been your manager, but if you ask me what’s missing – I think you’ve gone a bit soft. I just think you had better get back to the old hard-working, aggressive Wayne Rooney’.
“And I think he thought, ‘Yes, maybe that’s the case’. I think deep down he knows he didn’t play as well as he could have done at times.
“But what he had to get to was a level of fitness where he was able to produce again. And that’s what he has done.
“We were never going to sell him so I just said to him, ‘Wayne, go and get on with it’. And I was so pleased with what he did in pre-season. He came back in great shape, his training was first class, he wasn’t a minute’s problem, and you could really see the hunger back in his eyes again.
“The most important thing for Wayne was to show everyone what he really was about. Now people are looking at him in games and saying, ‘Look at the effort he’s putting in’.
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The most important thing for Wayne was to show everyone what he really was about. Now people are looking at him in games and saying, ‘Look at the effort he’s putting in’
“When he came into the team I felt as though he nearly had to reinvent himself. Go back to being the old Wayne Rooney, aggressive, fighting for everything that’s there, but with the level of technical ability of a top player which he’s got.
“He’s done that. He’s back, he’s showing leadership qualities. He’s shown exactly what it is to play for Manchester United.”
Those “leadership qualities” will almost certainly mean Rooney will be handed the captain’s armband this summer when Nemanja Vidic leaves the club at the end of his contract, although Moyes refused to confirm that yesterday.
Rooney’s decision to sign a five-and-a-half-year contract worth around £300,000 a week means he will end his top-flight career at Old Trafford, and marks a dramatic turnaround from last summer.
Then, simmering with resentment at Ferguson for leaving him out of key games and declaring publicly he had asked for a transfer, he was ready to be cut his ties with the club and join Chelsea, who had two offers rejected by United.
But Moyes believes Rooney’s future was never seriously in doubt. And he believes his decision to sign the new deal is not only a huge vote of confidence in his own managerial abilities to transform United’s fortunes, but also underlines his assertion that top players will still join the club even if they fail to qualify for the Champions League next season.
He said: “Wayne knows by the way I train, by the way I work, by my determination to succeed, that I won’t allow this [the club’s decline] to go the way it is. I’ll make changes if it doesn’t improve.
“All the top players want to play for Manchester United. I can tell you the amount of phone calls I’ve had from top players around the world who want to play for Manchester United. I said that we’d be in for all the best players in the world, and that hasn’t changed.
“The one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that no one wants to leave Manchester United very quickly, because they know once you leave here it’s not the same.
“I’ve probably known for three or four months that this [new contract] would happen. In fact, I’ve felt there was a good chance of it happening since August.”
Rooney is only 41 goals short of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s club goalscoring record and Moyes is challenging him to cement his own legendary status in the club’s history alongside Charlton and his 1960s contemporaries Denis Law and George Best.
“Wayne has recognised the way people like Sir Bobby, Denis Law and George Best are regarded here,” he said. “We have to keep challenging Wayne to reach those goals, make those targets.
“There is more to come from him as an all-round team player, a leader, a person.”
With United committed to an investment of over £70m in wages and bonuses over the next five years, the pressure is now on Rooney to deliver.