Chris Smalling has backed Manchester United and England’s “main man” Wayne Rooney to start firing again after being dropped by Jose Mourinho.
In the public eye since breaking onto the scene as a precocious teenager, the United boss on Friday said that the forward appeared to have been taken aback by this season’s scrutiny and criticism.
Mourinho went as far as to say Rooney had been damaged by over-the-top criticism in the aftermath of England’s World Cup qualifier in Slovakia and the following day made the bold move to take his captain out of the starting line-up.
The move appeared to help rather than hinder as United notched four goals in a stupendous first half against Leicester, with the skipper only introduced 83 minutes into the impressive 4-1 win against the reigning Premier League champions.
Mourinho’s decision and the form of Rooney will naturally lead to questions over his role for club and country, but stand-in captain Smalling has no doubt his team-mates’ quality will shine through once again.
“He was the same, as in before the game when we’re all getting ready,” the defender said of Rooney. “He is often one of the most vocal and he was the same today.
“Regardless of whatever the situation is, whatever game, whether he is on the bench or playing or whatever, he is always that same type of character and that’s why he is England’s main man and our main man.
“I think he’s a very experienced guy and he’s played that many games that I think it’ll only be a matter of time before he’s back in there and firing again because he’s quality.”
The focus on Rooney was as natural as the questions that followed United’s three-match losing streak after the international break.
The midweek EFL Cup victory over Northampton saw the Red Devils avoid an embarrassing fourth successive loss, but it was the swagger and panache shown during the thrashing of Leicester that was their true statement of intent.
Asked if felt like a big moment in the season, Smalling said: “Yeah, I think it is.
“I think there was a lot of talk for us to sort of turn the situation around because that was obviously a very bad week, the three results.
“But we could only really sort of show that we’ve changed by doing it on the pitch and I thought that first half was a great performance and really gave us a marker now to make sure we sort of attain to that.”
Smalling opened the scoring midway through the first half, with Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba giving Mourinho’s side a four-goal half-time cushion.
“By winning games and dominating games, that is where I think everyone gets their confidence back,” Smalling said.
“You could see that we really put that game to bed in the first half and hopefully there’s more of that to come because everyone really enjoyed that.
“I think if we can start the game with that tempo, I think there’s not many teams that can live with us.
“It is about finding that consistency to make sure that we stay at that top end of that table because we don’t want any more blips.
“We’ve had our blip hopefully for quite a while.”
Mourinho told his players before the match to relish the pressure and enjoy living the dream of those fans crammed into Old Trafford.
Smalling and his team-mates clearly got the message, enjoying the occasion after a taxing period.
“I think you try to shut it out but I think in the way that we all as players know we are a lot better than we’ve put on in these performances,” he said of the background noise.
“It’s obviously been down in training but I think we try to focus on our training sessions and try and improve each day, but it is hard when you’re not winning games. You can’t say that you can enjoy yourself too much.
“Hopefully we can take this into next week because we’ve got another two big games and at home as well so hopefully we can put on a show.”