Van Gaal dropped Rooney to the substitute’s bench for the game against Stoke, which Man United lost 2-0.
The indignity seems to have spurred Rooney on and he has now scored five goals in his past four games, including a crucial late winner against Liverpool last time out.
“Since that game [Stoke], he has come back in and shown he is a top-class performer,” Smalling told ManUtd.com.
“I think [being left out] can refresh you and spur you on a bit more, to prove to everyone just how good you are. Strikers go through periods when they don’t score but the best ones are those that come back and get on another run. Wazza has shown that [ability to bounce back] throughout his career and it’s good to see he is among the goals again.”
Rooney has taken his fair share of flak this season but his recent performances have been superb and he is stepping up to the plate for United at exactly the right time.
While he still has a lot more work to do, he has started 2016 in the best possible way. Rooney and United will be hoping to get back into the top four of the Premier League with a win against Southampton this weekend.