Wayne Rooney’s arrival at Manchester United generated the same level of excitement as Cristiano Ronaldo, says Mikael Silvestre, with the club’s all-time leading goalscorer considered to now sit alongside the greats.
A year after luring Ronaldo away from Portuguese giants Sporting CP, Sir Alex Ferguson dipped back into the transfer market to acquire another exciting young talent.
Rooney was prised from Premier League rivals Everton and wasted little time in making an impact at Old Trafford despite still being in his teens.
The England international would go on to raise the bar when it comes to the art of goalscoring for club and country, with a standing as one of the very best to represent the Red Devils and Three Lions safely secure.
Silvestre, who was already at United when Rooney arrived, claims to have never had any doubt that a powerful frontman would enjoy the same kind of success as Ronaldo – who now has five Ballons d’Or to his name.
The Frenchman told United’s Unscripted series: “When I heard we were signing him I was super, super happy. It was the same feeling as when we signed Cristiano the year before. You know you are getting someone that’s going to stay there for a while and perform, bring what you need to win trophies, which is scoring goals and creating chances. I think we were all really excited to sign one of the best young prospects around.
“For me, it meant an even harder test every day because I had to face him in training, but I loved that. I had always felt that it was better to face the likes of Wayne and Cristiano in training – before them it had been Ruud [van Nistelrooy], Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer], Teddy [Sheringham] – because I was a competitor and I always wanted to test myself against the best.
“Not only was he fast and clever, he was strong too. So was I and physicality, as a defender, is an important part of the game, so I was always looking forward to the challenge of facing him.
“He was great when he arrived, but he was always developing. He learnt a lot from the others, from Ole, Ruud, Louis [Saha], and like Cristiano he was a fast learner.
“He needed to bring consistency quickly into his game to be able to retain his place in the starting XI for United and England. He was, like the rest of us, a bad loser, and if you don’t want to lose then you always have to improve. He got that. He was always looking to improve his game.”
Silvestre feels fortunate to have graced the same side as so many modern-day icons, with the ex-France international boasting an enviable roll of honour when it comes to former team-mates.
He added: “When I sit down and think about the players I played with during my career, for my clubs and my country, it’s ridiculous.
“[Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldo, Cristiano, [Roberto] Baggio, [Thierry] Henry, [David] Trezeguet, [Laurent] Blanc, [Javier] Zanetti, [Diego] Simeone, [Roy] Keane, [David] Beckham, [Paul] Scholes, [Ryan] Giggs, and that’s just a few of them. It’s a joke, but no question at all, when I sit down and think about the best of them, Wayne is among them.
“That’s not just because of his ability, but also because I know what it takes to play that long for United, the work behind the scenes that people don’t see and can’t even imagine. It might seem like the weekend comes, you put on your kit and do your magic, but no.
“He played for United for well over a decade and scored more goals for the club than anybody else. During that time, putting in all his effort for the club and the team, going up and down the field, defending like he did from the front, playing injured many times, giving his all for United. He was a true Red.”