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By ESPN Staff
Sep 23, 2006

Rooney shouldn't be judged on goals - Saha

Louis Saha insists Wayne Rooney does not have to score goals to be a major influence at Manchester United.

With United preparing for their return to the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, where their lingering European hopes were snuffed out by Benfica last season, the issue of Rooney's lack of Champions League goals has again resurfaced.

Although the 20-year-old scored a brilliant hat-trick against Fenerbahce on his Red Devils debut two years ago, he has not scored in European combat since.

Instead, Rooney's impact has been negligible, especially against Villarreal last season when he was sent off by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen for sarcastically applauding a decision that had gone against him.

Yet Saha, almost certain to be paired alongside the youngster this week, thinks it is too easy to look at Rooney's goals record and say he is not contributing.

Having benefited from the former Everton striker's presence over the past six months, the Frenchman knows exactly how much of a threat Rooney is.

'I look at Wayne in the same way as I look at Thierry Henry,' he said.

'If he is not scoring, or providing two or three assists in a game, everyone thinks he is playing badly.

'But I know from experience, just the way he moves provides a threat for the opposition teams.

'He creates massive problems for every defender who plays against him and we all know the quality he has and the impact he can have on a game when he is on form.'

The problem for United just now is that Rooney is not on form.

His recent below-par performances have been blamed on a lack of match action since he broke his foot at Chelsea five months ago.

Three matches in a week should help sort that problem out and while Tuesday's trip to the Portuguese capital does not hold the same mouth-watering expectation as the Red Devils' opening Group G clash with Celtic, it arguably represents United's most difficult test of the first phase.

No-one in the Old Trafford camp will need any reminding of the disastrous night they endured against Benfica last December when, needing a draw to advance into the knock-out phase, they meekly surrendered despite taking an early lead through Paul Scholes.

It was undoubtedly one of the low points of Sir Alex Ferguson's near 20-year stint at United and Saha, who made a fruitless half-hour appearance off the bench, admits the defeat will be a major motivating factor this week.

'We are determined to put right what happened last year,' he said.

'It was a really bad night. We worked really hard and we could have won but we just could not manage it. We have to hope it is not the same story again.'

After opening their campaign with a win against Celtic, a draw would be enough to keep United on track for a place in the last 16.

Although they are no longer viewed as automatic challengers for Europe's top club prize, having seen Liverpool win the trophy two years ago and Arsenal reach the final last term, Ferguson and his team presumably feel they are capable of emulating those achievements.

And Saha will certainly approach Tuesday's game in confident mood after breaking his own Champions League scoring duck with a brace against the Scottish champions.

'I was delighted with those goals because I feel a greater part of the team when I am scoring,' he said.

'I am playing with a lot more confidence now, which is partly thanks to the manager and coaching staff for showing so much faith in me.

'During my time at United, I have suffered a lot of injuries but there has been nothing over the last six or seven months, so I have been able to get some consistency, which has helped me a lot.'