Rooney revels in new role as midfield playmaker

Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney (centre) and his teammates celebrating after winning the English FA Cup final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United, on May 21, 2016.
Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney (centre) and his teammates celebrating after winning the English FA Cup final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United, on May 21, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Wayne Rooney hailed 10-man Manchester United's dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final as a special moment in his career, as the England star ended his long wait to win the competition.

Rooney had been on the losing side in both of his previous FA Cup final appearances for United, but he erased the painful memories of those defeats by Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea in 2007 with a dominant display in his new role as a midfield playmaker.

With Louis van Gaal's side trailing 1-0 after Jason Puncheon's 78th minute strike at Wembley on Saturday, it was the United captain who came to his team's rescue with a superb surge past a host of Palace defenders before he lofted a fine cross that led to Juan Mata's 81st-minute equaliser.

Even when United were reduced to 10 men following Chris Smalling's extra-time dismissal, Rooney kept dictating play and no one deserved to celebrate more than the 30-year-old when Jesse Lingard smashed the 110th-minute winner.

"I'm delighted. It's a special moment. It's a competition I have loved watching as a fan growing up, I've been to two finals and lost, so I will enjoy it tonight for sure," said Rooney.

After 14 seasons in the game, he now has the last major club honour, following his victories in the Premier League, Champions League and League Cup.

However, he also admitted that United have fallen short of expectations despite winning their first trophy in three years.

"It's a massive club. You have to set yourself standards and we fell below them this season," he said.

"Obviously we wanted to finish in the Champions League."

United will instead feature in the Europa League next season. They will be joined by West Ham United after their Wembley win freed up an extra qualifying berth.

Palace manager Alan Pardew tasted defeat in an FA Cup final for the third time, having been on the losing team when United beat the south London club in a replay in 1990 and overseen West Ham United's loss on penalties to Liverpool in 2006.

He praised his players' "heart and passion" and how the club had conducted themselves with "dignity".

"It was a great cup final and could have gone either way,"he said.

Pardew celebrated Puncheon's opener by gyrating on the touchline, and he said afterwards that he had got carried away in the moment.

"I enjoyed that moment," he said. "In a cup final, as a manager it's difficult to enjoy moments. Forgive me my dance. It's just because I enjoyed it."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Rooney revels in new role as midfield playmaker'. Print Edition | Subscribe