Rooney relishing reunion clash

More fireworks than normal can be expected on Bonfire weekend as

the Black Cats’ visit to Old Trafford will mark the return of a

pair of old favourites, who opted to sign up for life on Wearside

earlier this week. Nani has already claimed he expects to get

kicked. Rooney intends to stay out of harm’s way. “I am looking

forward to it even more,” he said. “It is always nice to play

against former team-mates and hopefully they will be chasing me

around. “It is always sad when your friends and team-mates leave.

But you can understand it. “The two of them didn’t get much

football last year. They are ambitious and want to be playing every

week.” The departure of two players who have amassed more than 600

appearances between them merely adds to the sense of it being the

end of an era at Old Trafford. Gary Neville retired in the middle

of last season, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar immediately

after it and with Owen Hargreaves’ contract not being renewed

either, Sir Alex Ferguson has lost a huge amount of experience. He

has faith in his younger players, though. One of the reasons he was

not too perturbed by the prospect of Brown and O’Shea leaving was

the form showed by Chris Smalling during his debut season. That has

now been rewarded with a lucrative five-year contract extension,

allowing the 21-year-old to look forward with confidence. “This is

a great club and in the short time I have been here I have already

achieved more than I could have ever expected to,” said the

Londoner. “I am looking forward to a long and successful career at

Manchester United.” Ferguson is of the same opinion about a player

who far exceeded expectations during his debut United campaign,

considering he had been playing in the non-league for Maidstone

less than two years before joining the Premier League champions.

“Chris has been outstanding since joining us from Fulham last year.

“He is an extremely talented young defender. He is quick, strong

and reads the game well. He is a great asset to the team.”