Years of being overshadowed by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez meant Rooney had never been quite able to establish himself as Manchester United’s talisman.
But the 2009/2010 season changed all that. Ronaldo and Tevez jumped ship to Real Madrid and Manchester City – leaving United in need of someone to fill the void left by their departures.
Few were confident they would manage it. Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were brought in but were hardly new signings to set pulses racing with excitement.
And Dimitar Berbatov – signed from Tottenham on deadline day in 2008 for a then club record fee of £30million – was struggling to live up to expectations.
United went up against City in the second leg of the Football League Cup trailing 2-1 from a feisty first leg at the Etihad. Tevez’s brace – and celebrations in front of Sir Alex Ferguson – meant the second leg represented a must-win affair.
Wayne Rooney could start for Manchester United against Hull
Wayne Rooney's record-breaking goal in pictures
Sun, January 22, 2017
Click through the gallery for the best snaps of Wayne Rooney's landmark goal
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Click through the gallery for the best snaps of Wayne Rooney's record-breaking goal for Manchester United
Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick struck to ensure they moved into pole position to make Wembley’s final against Aston Villa. But Tevez, back at Old Trafford and spurred on by the hostility of the occasion, found the net to make it 3-3 on aggregate.
And then enter Rooney. The former Everton striker had endured a frustrating couple of games against City, failing to find a way past Shay Given after beating the goalkeeper twice during a league game the previous September.
But he rose the occasion majestically to prove his importance to the side. After losing Ronaldo and Tevez, Rooney was now the superstar.
The 31-year-old pounced in the dying embers of the contest to send United through. He did so via a sublime header that he dispatched past Given after a pinpoint cross from Ryan Giggs.
Of his 250 goals for United, few have been more important. It was a goal that not only kept their hopes of silverware in the post-Ronaldo era alive, it also kept their nosy neighbours at bay.
Fast forward seven years and, though his powers have undoubtedly waned, he remains a key asset. His sublime free-kick against Stoke at the weekend was just another contribution that cemented his legendary status.
Jose Mourinho could let Rooney loose against Hull tonight (7.45pm). With United 2-0 up, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic perhaps in need of a rest, he could have a chance to add to his goal tally at the KCom stadium.
If he does, then it would represent another chance to add his his bulging trophy cabinet. That night against City was among the biggest of his United career and shooting down Hull would show he’s not done just yet.