MANCHESTER, March 11 – Sir Alex Ferguson believes Wayne Rooney could match the 42 goals that Cristiano Ronaldo provided for Manchester United in 2008 after the England striker reached the 30 mark with a double in the Champions League humbling of AC Milan.Rooney, who had also scored twice in the 3-2 first leg win, laid the foundations for a 4-0 win on a night that United boss Ferguson described as one of the most satisfying of his illustrious managerial career.
"When I think that we’ve beaten Milan 4-0 — not many teams have ever done that, if any," the Scot declared. "It was a fantastic night."
It was the first time United had eliminated their opponents for the first time in five attempts since two of European football’s iconic institutions first met, 52 years ago.
Ferguson added: "I said it was a landmark victory when we beat them over there. I regard Milan as a great European example for us and that makes me particularly proud that we managed to beat that great team."
Rooney’s early header was followed by a strike in the first minute of the second half which broke Milan’s spirit and further goals from Park Ji-Sung and Darren Fletcher ensured it was an unhappy return to Old Trafford for David Beckham.
"I think the second goal was decisive," Ferguson said. "We were able to relax and play good football. Milan were forced to try and attack and left themselves a little bit open. It was a difficult night for them after that."
Ferguson was also delighted to have the luxury of withdrawing Rooney from the fray early, ensuring he did not aggravate a niggling knee injury that had threatened to keep him out of the tie.
"Wayne’s performance was just a continuation of his form of the last two or three months. It is sensational. He is unbelievable and I’m very pleased with him."
Asked if he felt Rooney could match Ronaldo’s haul in his penultimate season before his departure for Real Madrid, Ferguson replied: "It’s a challenge. I was happy with him getting to the 30 mark, to be honest. But he just keeps getting better."
Ronaldo’s departure has ensured Rooney has been consistently deployed as an out-and-out centreforward this term, but Ferguson feels his improved return in terms of goals is also a reflection of the work he has done on the training ground.
"The thing that has improved is his movement in the penalty box. Also, he has practised more than he’s ever done and you get the rewards when you do that."
Milan’s hopes of overturning their first-leg deficit disappeared after Ronaldinho and Klaas Jan Huntelaar failed to take a couple of early chances that could have transformed the complexion of the tie.
"You don’t want to lose the first goal in a game like this," Ferguson acknowledged. "It would have encouraged Milan."
With Ronaldo’s Real having gone out to Lyon on Wednesday evening, United look well placed to reach the final of the tournament for a third consecutive season and Ferguson said he was relaxed about the draw for the quarter finals.
"When we play at that tempo, we’re very hard to beat. It doesn’t matter who we play."
That view was endorsed by Milan coach Leonardo, who admitted United had been simply too powerful for his injury-depleted squad.
"I guess we can analyse the game in many ways, but the one thing we cannot deny is the performance of United," the Brazilian said. "They played a truly great game.
"Conceding a goal so early made a comeback even more complicated for us.
"In the first leg we played an equal match. We lost but we dominated for some periods. Today was different. We have some problems but United is a very strong team, they can use your mistakes in the best way. They are very clinical and that is what you have to be in this competition."