On February 12, 2011, Mancunians and guests from around the world descended on Old Trafford to view the spectacle of the Manchester Derby. For years the derby had been dominated by Manchester United as the City team often struggled to maintain its standing in the Premier League. But in 2008, things changed as the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased the team and invested millions, if not billions in attempting to place City at the forefront of not just the Premier League, but on the pedestal of the global game itself. So, three years after the club sold, a fierce, heated rivalry had emerged as the two clubs not only battled for relevance within the city of Manchester, but also fought one another for players and for trophies. When the two clubs met on the 12th of February, City posed not just as a local rival, but also as a challenger for the Premier League title.
Manchester United, a club with history and lure unlike most, could not just simply lay down as their neighborly challenger strutted into the stadium. Yet late in the second half, the two teams remained tied 1-1 after Nani gave United the lead in the first half and Edin Zdeko equalized shortly after half time for the visitors. The stage was set for something spectacular – for a hero to write his name in the history books – insert Wayne Rooney. As the game drew on, the crowd roared, and players grew tired, Rooney continued on eager to please the home crowd. After a bit of a skirmish at midfield, the ball squirted out to Nani on the right flank who looked up to try and find a teammate. At first glance, a cross seemed rather unwise with just Rooney in the box and several defenders on either side of him. Yet Nani knew the desire and hunger within his teammate, and quickly sent a hopeful cross in. The ball deflected off the defender directly in front of the Ecuadorian and seemed almost destined for Rooney. Without that slight deflection, the opportunity for the spectacle would have disappeared. Fortunately, Rooney had anticipated a cross that would lead him towards the goal and the ball was drifting behind him. Yet, as the ball floated through the air, it was as if time stood still and everyone froze – in the stands, on the pitch – practically granting Rooney center stage. And in one flash, and with one stroke of pure athletic ingenuity, the ball flew past Joe Hart and fans, and maybe even Rooney himself were left mesmerized and in a triumphant frenzy. Rooney had perfectly contorted his body by throwing himself into the air and kicked the ball back over his head straight into the net – a display that outdid the game itself.
Order had been restored. The Reds were back on top in Manchester. And Wayne Rooney, a player with a personality and work ethic that represented the city, was the hero.