Rooney warns Man United players to 'stand up' amid Mourinho criticism
Wayne Rooney has challenged Manchester United's stars to improve their performances as he feels manager Jose Mourinho is simply an "easy target" for criticism.
A spirited comeback saw United come from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle United 3-2 on Saturday, a result that has reduced some of the pressure on their under-fire manager.
Reports continue to circulate around Mourinho's future, though, with former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane tipped to replace him if there is no consistent improvement in results.
Former club captain Rooney says the mood around the club reminds him of Louis van Gaal's difficult final few months at Old Trafford, and he wants the players to start performing for their boss.
"It's tough [at United], it has been a tough situation," the DC United forward said. "The players, the manager, it has been a tough start to the season.
"I know Jose is getting a load of stick, but I said a few weeks ago the players have to stand up. They have to be counted and they have to be better. The manager can do so much but then it is down to the players on the pitch to produce and probably collectively.
"It [the poor run of form] is a bit of everything coming together but Jose is an easy target. Some of the players have to be better.
"I said the same thing when Louis van Gaal was there. He took a lot of stick but behind closed doors I said to the players, 'We have to be doing better'. Personally, I think he [Van Gaal] set us up brilliantly the way but we didn't produce on the pitch, so I am sure that is getting said behind the scenes.
"It's a young team, different pressure, quite a lot of those players maybe haven't faced this before and they maybe haven't got the senior players which I had there as a young player to help in those difficult moments. There are not enough of them to help you through it."
Rooney spent 13 years at United, in which he became the club's all-time top goalscorer and won 12 major trophies, including the Champions League in 2008.
The former England skipper believes he could well have won three European titles had it not been for the fact United played finals in 2009 and 2011 against Barcelona and, in Rooney's eyes, the best player of all time.
"If we had been against any other team but Barcelona – we don't know – but you would have fancied us to win those games. In my eyes, they are the best team ever and Messi is the best player ever. What he does is incredible," he said.
"Messi has just got a bit of everything. [Cristiano] Ronaldo has gone from a winger to a striker and a goalscorer rather than taking players on all the time. He has gone more one or two-touch and getting in the box and scoring goals, whereas Messi has a bit of everything.
"You see him scoring goals from playing a deep midfield role at times. [There are times when] I'm probably still walking on the pitch and he's scoring. So he is probably the best."