Wayne Rooney's extraordinary season has proved that Manchester United can do without Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar everybody said manager Sir Alex Ferguson could never replace.
That is the belief of United veteran Ryan Giggs, who insists Rooney is already eclipsing their old team-mate because he has had to perform under so much pressure.
Rooney aims to add to his stunning haul of 33 goals so far this season by scoring against bitter rivals Liverpool today and securing a victory to lift Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League.
An astonishing burst of 16 goals in his past 11 matches has elevated24-year-old Rooney to the status of the most feared striker in the land, and has put the England striker on the verge of the unthinkable - bettering Ronaldo's total of 42 goals that were the backbone of United'sLeague and Champions League double two stellar seasons ago.
But Giggs, who hopes to make his return from a broken arm today, said: 'A lot of people asked where we were going to get our goals from when Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez left last summer. But Wayne has gone up tothe next level.
'He was under a lot of pressure with the summer departures and that makes his achievement even more special. But I always felt he had it in him to score that number of goals and improve his game.
'Wayne wasn't an out-and-out forward and when Cristiano was here, he had to sometimes play on the wing. He didn't get the same scoring opportunities. We all know what Wayne is capable of as a footballer but what everyone has been impressed by this year is how he moved to the next level as a goalscorer.
'The positions he is getting into, the headers and the number have been great. They are goalscorers' goals. People questioned whether he was an out-and-out goalscorer, but he has proved himself this year.'
Red Devil: Wayne Rooney has become the most feared striker in the land
Giggs, at 36, is the most decorated footballer in the UK, having won a staggering 11 Premier League titles, two Champions League gongs, four FA Cup medals and three League Cup triumphs, as well as holding United's all-time appearance record of 828 games.
But he believes Rooney will break most of his records, as long as he resists any temptation to leave Old Trafford.
Real Madrid, according to sources close to the Spanish giants, have identified Rooney as their top summer target, which explains why United are desperate for him to sign a record-breaking, five-year contract extension.
'Wayne is at the right place,' said Giggs. 'He's got the best manager and at United you will always be competing for trophies, which is what you want as a footballer.
'We have great players at United and he loves being here. I can see him staying.
'If Wayne plays here, keeps fit and going for the next 10 years, then he will break every record. He will break my appearance record and he will break Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record of 249 goals. I hope that is something he can do.'
One-club man Giggs bagged the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in England and Wales, as well as last season's PFA Player of the Year - a prize he is convinced Rooney will scoop this season - but he is determined that there are more awards to go on his own mantelpiece before he finally calls time on one of modern football's truly great careers.
Strike force: Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney at United
'The next medal or trophy is still my motivation,' said the former Wales international, who was capped 64 times between 1991 and 2007. 'It's got to be. I will have 40 to 50 years to look back at what I won when I finish.
'Of course, I'm proud when I see the list and lucky in some respects to have won so much but there are still things I want to achieve. 'I will only look back on that, though, when I finish playing with great pride and realise I have been part of a special era.
'Winning the Sports Personality of the Year was strange. It was great to receive that sort of recognition but it's a different feeling from winning a trophy. You can't beat winning a trophy.'
Giggs is well aware that while Rooney is at the very height of his powers, the clock is ticking on his own career.
That is why he is desperate to play some part against Liverpool so soon after sustaining a broken arm against Aston Villa last month.
He said: 'When you get to this stage of your career and you know you are near the end, one bad injury could be it. You just try to enjoy every day and every competition you are in. As a footballer you don't really think too much about injuries.'
The Achilles injury that has robbed former team-mate David Beckham of a World Cup chance is further proof of how fragile a professional footballer's career can be, but Giggs is backing the ex- England captain to come back better than ever.
'Becks came on at Old Trafford the other week and showed to everyone he still has the quality,' said Giggs. 'He can put the ball anywhere with that right boot.
'I'm sure he will get the right care and have the right people looking after him. He's always been professional and he will come back strong.
'He's 34 and the way he keeps himself fit, he'll be able to play for another three or four years.'
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