Wayne Rooney's promotion to captain could not bring him his first Champions League goal for two years but the Manchester United striker is entitled to cherish the memories nonetheless. He wore the armband like a fashion statement and a routine win over willing but limited opponents makes it almost inconceivable that Sir Alex Ferguson's team will fail to qualify for the knock-out stages.
With a record of three successive victories, United's significant improvement in Europe can be gauged by the fact they could become one of the first teams to reach the next phase when they visit the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on November 1. The latest triumph in Group F was accomplished courtesy of a splendid goal from Paul Scholes and fortuitous ones from John O'Shea and the substitute Kieran Richardson, though the margin of victory could have been far more handsome had United not been so "gratuitous", to use Ferguson's description.
Alan Smith, in particular, will wonder how he missed an opportunity to score after coming off the bench for the latest stage in his rehabilitation from a broken leg, but this was no time for recriminations. Ferguson spoke about a "good attacking performance", indicating that the team are being driven by their failure to qualify from a moderate group last season. "They have grown up," he said. "They don't want any more embarrassments like last season, and they're playing good football into the bargain."
Behind the scenes, the turmoil associated with the Glazers' takeover is still having repercussions judging by the resignation of two directors yesterday but on the pitch, Ferguson can be satisfied there is comparative tranquillity. FC Copenhagen were robust opponents but United are playing with the style and substance that befits a side who have spent most of season at the top of the league. They signalled their intent when Rooney sent Louis Saha scampering clear inside the opening 30 seconds and that set the tone for an evening of near-unremitting pressure.
Ferguson was particularly entitled to be satisfied given that there was a maze of fun-house mirrors to navigate before a ball had been kicked. The manager had to reconfigure his team on two occasions in quick succession, Ryan Giggs complaining of feeling unwell in the warm-up and asking to be put on the bench, followed by Rio Ferdinand pulling out with a cricked neck. In came Darren Fletcher and Wes Brown, with Rooney made captain a week before his 21st birthday. "Some players, like Paul Scholes, don't want to be captain, so it was an easy choice," said Ferguson. "And Wayne did fantastically, as I expected."
Presumably Ferguson did not consider Michael Carrick, the £18m acquisition from Tottenham whose impact has been anything but immediate. Last night's performance was laced with all the usual nice touches, a clever pass here and there and a good appreciation of the game, but it is time he started to think of himself as a big-game player who can dominate matches, particularly when the team have been deprived of several key figures.
On the night, however, it was only a small criticism. United were so dominant, so totally at ease with their superiority, that it was a night for Ferguson to delve into the pot of superlatives. He described the shot with which Scholes gave them the lead as "sensational", although the same could not be said of the second and third goals.
O'Shea's instinctive reaction was to flick the ball goalward with his right boot after Cristiano Ronaldo's corner flew into his path 38 seconds into the second half. Instead the ball struck his standing foot and ricocheted off his heel into the goal. The Irishman looked faintly embarrassed, as did Richardson when his thoroughly ordinary shot seven minutes from the end somehow squirted past the goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen, hitherto the Danes' best player.
Ferguson's smile, however, was that of a contented man, United's evening tarnished only by the resignations of Nick Humby and Andy Anson, both of whom have attained jobs elsewhere after becoming increasingly marginalised and disillusioned under the Glazers.
The departure of two largely unseen executives will scarcely register on the scale of sopa-opera storylines, but it is another reminder that all may not be as hunky dory as the club would like to portray. David Gill, the chief executive, described himself as "very disappointed" although the team's progress in Europe, and what it means in a financial sense, should go some way to lightening his mood.