Wayne Rooney just needs a medal with England to be crowned an all-time great. That is the verdict of Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville, following another match-winning performance from the forward in the League Cup final at Wembley yesterday.
Although a minor knee injury threatens Rooney's presence in the friendly against Egypt on Wednesday, he will be a key part of Fabio Capello's plans for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. And Neville feels that could provide the crowning glory to an extraordinary career in which the 24-year-old has hit new heights this season, scoring 28 goals - the last five of them headers - thus far.
"Wayne is a great player to play with and is one of the brilliant players Manchester United have had," said the veteran right-back. "He has been brilliant for England too.
Neither Capello, nor Sir Alex Ferguson, would describe any individual player as irreplaceable. Yet both men would accept that without Rooney, their respective quests to glory would be in severe jeopardy should anything serious happen to the Merseysider.
Neville is not given to hyperbole. But that is the only conclusion he can draw from a quite staggering contribution this term. "England cannot afford to lose him and neither can we," he said.
"We have two months of important matches now and we need him fit for them. It is there for everyone to see. He is going through a peak moment in his career. He is looking dangerous every time he goes on the pitch and can score lots of goals."
Burn-out is a worry for some, although not the man himself. And Neville does not feel Rooney will weigh himself down with the burden of such heavy expectation that is now sitting on his shoulders.
"Wayne can handle all the comments and accolades, all the praise and criticism," said Neville. "He has been around a long time now and he has the experience of a 30-year-old really even at such a young age because he came into the Premier League at 16.
"He has played in European Cups, FA Cups, World Cups and European championships. He has experienced the lot. He is maturing now. It is not just about his performance, it is about his determination and character and his willingness to always fight for the team.
"That is what makes him stand out. He is not just a player who wins you games - he fights for everything as well. His temperament is brilliant. He is brilliant to watch. He has been great since the moment I laid eyes on him about six or seven years ago when we were with England."