It was Wayne Rooney’s night and so José Mourinho took a back seat for his first home game as the Manchester United manager – arriving without fanfare, leaving without a press conference – but this summer’s other big name arrival at Old Trafford made his presence felt in an otherwise tame goalless testimonial against Everton.
“I think every big player can work with other big players,” said Zlatan Ibrahimovic before kick-off. First impressions at Old Trafford suggest that was not simply another tribute to the United captain.
An immediate rapport between Ibrahimovic and Rooney was the most promising aspect of a United performance that showed the rigidity of the Louis van Gaal era will not disappear at a stroke. The pair may have a combined age of 64 but their touch, quality and understanding was evident in United’s final outing before Sunday’s Community Shield against Leicester City. “I see no problems, only success,” Ibrahimovic added. “I said many years ago the perfect partner for a striker is Wayne Rooney. He works not only for himself but for the striker and the whole team. I’m absolutely happy to be one of the guys beside him.”
Rooney’s testimonial against his former club was devoid of intensity but succeeded in the main objective of raising substantial funds for the United and England captain’s foundation. Rooney is aiming to raise £5m during his testimonial year for Alder Hey children’s hospital, Claire House children’s hospice, Manchester United Foundation and the NSPCC, of which he is a patron.
“All the money raised will go to a lot of children who are in desperate need,” the striker told an impressive crowd of 58,597 after the game. “I’d like to thank Everton for their support and their fans for coming along. You have been fantastic. I would just like to say to the Manchester United fans I have spent 12 seasons here, had great success and hope there is more to come.”
Among the audience were Sir Alex Ferguson, the England manager Sam Allardyce, the former United manager David Moyes and Sir Bobby Charlton, whose all-time goalscoring record for United should be the latest mantle he passes on to Rooney this season. The 30-year-old needs only five goals to surpass Charlton’s tally of 249. It was a nice touch of Rooney to include among his guests in the directors’ box Colin Harvey, the Everton great who he credits as the biggest influence on his career when coming through the youth system at Goodison Park.
Both teams formed a guard of honour for United’s No10 when he entered the pitch with his three sons. The eldest, Kai, was allowed to sit among the United substitutes – it was that kind of night – as two Premier League sides produced an uneventful show. The hosts went close three times before the interval and it was encouraging for Mourinho that the Rooney-Ibrahimovic partnership were responsible for two of them. Rooney, who operated in the No10 role before being replaced by Marcus Rashford after 52 minutes, slipped the Swedish striker in behind the young Everton defender Mason Holgate and picked out his new team-mate with a deep cross over the head of John Stones.
The visiting goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the summer signing from Fulham, saved well on both occasions.
The clearer chances on the night fell to Everton. David de Gea saved well from Ross Barkley while Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas failed to find the target from clear openings. The Belgium pair may well have been in shock from the news that Roberto Martínez is their new manager at international level. His replacement at Everton, Ronald Koeman, visibly despaired of Gerard Deulofeu’s performance before withdrawing the Spaniard at half-time and lost Muhamed Besic to what appeared a serious knee injury in the second half.
Mourinho looked equally fraught as the game lost all rhythm amid a procession of substitutions. He is seeking not only more fluidity and sharpness before United next appear at Old Trafford on 19 August, against Southampton in the Premier League, but a resolution to the arduous pursuit of Paul Pogba.
“We are going to sign one more player, that’s for sure,” the United manager confirmed. “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 on 31 August so we have plenty of time to do that but obviously I would like to do it before the Premier League starts.”
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