(Reuters) - Manchester United manager David Moyes has suffered a stuttering start to life at Old Trafford but it could have been far worse for the Scot if he had failed to retain the services of striker Wayne Rooney.
The England forward was again the central figure as United brushed aside relegation-threatened West Ham United 3-1 at home on Saturday, dropping deep to act as the fulcrum for the side and bursting forward to provide two assists.
Rooney had been coveted by English Premier League rivals Chelsea prior to the close of the transfer window in September after he admitted to his frustrations at being played in midfield by former boss Alex Ferguson last season.
Moyes, though, managed to repel Chelsea's advances and keep Rooney, whose form has been a big boost in the ongoing absence of senior players Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Robin van Persie and midfield pivot Michael Carrick.
"Do you know what I see more than anything in Wayne? I see leadership. I see somebody who wants to take responsibility for the team," Moyes was quoted as saying by British media.
"I see somebody who cares for how he plays and how the team plays. More than anything, that is what I see from Wayne.
"He is getting to an age now where he realizes he is not a boy any more. He is one of the senior men in the team. He is actually on the verge of being one of the great legends at this club."
Moyes gave Rooney his first-team break as a 16-year-old when the pair were at Everton, the striker showing his prodigious talent with a sublime winning goal against then champions Arsenal to announce his arrival.
The pair, though, fell out after Moyes sued Rooney over comments published in the striker's autobiography and many believed that the arrival of the Scot at Old Trafford would signal the end of the Englishman's career at the club.
All water under the bridge now, though, with the striker's performance this season one of Moyes' few successes so far.
Moyes has suffered sharp criticism following a 4-1 loss to rivals Manchester City, home defeats to Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion and Everton, a failed search for a central midfielder and the costly signing of misfiring Marouane Fellani.
Their title challenge looked shot a fortnight ago as they fell 13 points behind Arsenal but the form of Rooney in a 3-0 away win over Aston Villa last week and then Saturday's success at home to West Ham has cut the deficit to a more manageable eight.
"Wayne played great," Moyes said of the 28-year-old's display against West Ham.
"He dropped in and he took the ball. He passed the ball from a little bit deeper at times but also made a contribution in the goals. It was very good."
United are away to Hull City on Thursday and then travel to Norwich City on Saturday before hosting Tottenham Hotspur on January 1.
Moyes believed Rooney had matured into a leader on the field who was able to inspire and demand more from the younger players in the squad as they bid to climb up from their unusual eighth position in the table.
"I think he is saying, 'I have got to take responsibility for results and for performances and make sure the players are doing it on the pitch.' The players are responding.
"In the dressing room now Wayne is one of those who is beginning to call the shots."
(Writing by Patrick Johnston)