Jürgen Klinsmann said Wayne Rooney's footballing instincts were so sharp he could "smell the ball" as he discussed the unique allure of the UEFA Champions League with UEFA.com.
Former Germany striker and coach Jürgen Klinsmann has enjoyed watching Wayne Rooney in this season's UEFA Champions League, telling UEFA.com "he can smell the ball; he knows where it goes".
Speaking at the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour in Los Angeles, Klinsmann was full of enthusiasm for the Manchester United FC marksman. "So far, Wayne is playing a tremendous season," the 45-year-old said. "He's really hungry for goals, and he wants trophies now. He looks calm; he looks confident. So if he continues like that, he might get a shot at the European Player of the Year award."
Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, Rooney has thrived leading the United attack. He has scored 32 goals already this season, including two in each leg of United's 7-2 aggregate victory against AC Milan in the round of 16.
"His instinct is just tremendous," added Klinsmann, who won the UEFA Cup with FC Internazionale Milano and FC Bayern München. "He can smell the ball; he knows where it goes, and he's always available for the team. He works hard, he runs backwards and helps defensively. He lives in the moment, and that's the best thing you can do as a football player."
Rooney's rise has not been the only exciting element to this season's UEFA Champions League, with a number of unexpected results keeping Klinsmann on the edge of his seat. "Real Madrid are out, and now surprisingly Chelsea are out as well, but it still leaves some big clubs," he said. "Inter Milan; I think they look very strong, because they did really well in the game against Chelsea.
"And then you have Barcelona," added Klinsmann, a 1990 FIFA World Cup and EURO '96 winner. "It depends how hungry Barcelona are to follow up on the same great performance they did last season. And Man United look really good, Arsenal look really good, Bayern München are through to the quarter-finals – so you have teams that are all basically on the same level, and it will be decided on [who is] the hungriest."
Having led Bayern to the quarter-finals last season, Klinsmann knows that the UEFA Champions League remains a special competition for everyone involved. "You get the best players around the globe playing in this competition, and they want to measure themselves with the best, so they are looking forward to those knockout matches.
"They want to see if one top player is better than the other. And the coaches want to measure themselves. There's a lot of electricity. There's so much energy in that competition, that you don't need to motivate players to play in the Champions League."