MANCHESTER United manager Louis van Gaal praised Wayne Rooney’s “mentality” after the captain’s hat-trick in a 4-0 win against Club Brugge helped his side secure a Champions League place.
United will go into the hat in Thursday’s group-stage draw after their victory in Bruges on Wednesday completed a 7-1 aggregate win in the competition’s play-off round.
Rooney had previously gone 10 club games without scoring, prompting suggestions he was unsuited to the role of lone striker in Van Gaal’s single-striker system, but the Dutchman said he never doubted that the England captain would rediscover the path to goal.
“I have given him always the confidence that a player needs, but I think Wayne has a very strong mentality and with his level he always shall come back,” Van Gaal said.
“And he proved that this evening (Wednesday). But still it’s a long way for him and also for Manchester United it’s not so easy. Of course I’m very happy for him.”
All three of Rooney’s goals were pleasing on the eye, as he applied assured one-touch finishes to passes from Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata.
Herrera stroked in United’s fourth goal in the 63rd minute at Jan Breydel Stadium, having been moved forward into a number 10 role following the half-time introduction of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Herrera had struggled in the game’s early stages, misplacing passes and earning a booking for an untidy foul on Victor Vazquez, and Van Gaal admitted afterwards that he had contemplated taking him off.
Ander Herrera of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal.Source: Getty Images
“He started not so good. He had a lot of ball losses and also a yellow card, so at that moment I wanted to change him, but then I saw he was coming back,” said Van Gaal, who also saw substitute Javier Hernandez miss a late penalty.
“And after that moment he plays a good match on the ‘double six’ position, but later on (at) 10 he was better. So I’m very pleased also for him.” The 2014-15 season was the first time United had not graced the Champions League in 19 years, the legacy of a disastrous seventh-place finish under Van Gaal’s hapless predecessor David Moyes.