LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- Manchester United boss David Moyes says he’s delighted to see that Wayne Rooney has “fire in his belly” and insists he does not want his striker to mellow.
Rooney came in for criticism on Sunday for kicking out at Cardiff City’s Jordan Mutch during United’s 2-2 draw in Wales.
The England forward escaped with just a yellow card, and went on to score one and set up another -- with Moyes suggesting ahead of United’s Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen that Rooney has a greater hunger this season than last season.
“I think his form and his attitude and his temperament have all been first class,” Moyes told a news conference in Leverkusen. “I couldn’t fault any of them. There will always be times when players have little bits where it’s not always right. On Sunday, Wayne was probably a little bit fortunate but I still think the referee made the right decision.
“Wayne’s got a fire in his belly and I think he plays better when he’s tough and aggressive. I don’t want to change Wayne Rooney that’s for sure. I don’t want him to be kicking at anybody but I want him to be aggressive, to be challenging and running. I think we’re seeing a really good Wayne Rooney who’s in top form and scoring goals as well.
Moyes added: “It’s part of his game, he’s an aggressive player. He plays with his heart as well as the skills he’s got in abundance. It was always a big part when he was at Everton with me and that’s what a lot of people have said was missing from his game last season.
“It’s certainly not missing now, he’s got the hunger back, the desire back and he’s committed for everything. I’d rather have a Wayne Rooney that way than any other way.”
Rooney’s teammate for club and country, Chris Smalling, echoed his manager’s sentiment, saying: “I think the way that he plays you can see that hunger and passion, he’s just a born winner and he breathes that in the changing room and through the whole squad.”
United are currently top of Group A and a victory against Leverkusen would guarantee progress to the Champions League last-16 at Moyes’ first attempt.
However, the Scot insists he is taking nothing for granted against the2002 finalists, who have not lost at home since March and currently lie second in the Bundesliga.
“Every game becomes your toughest test,” Moyes said. “As it stands Leverkusen are in good form, in good shape in the group themselves. We know we are going to have a game on our hands.”
Phil Jones has travelled with the United squad but Nemanja Vidic and Robin van Persie were left in Manchester as they recover from concussion and a groin problem respectively, while Michael Carrick is also still sidelined.