It seems that it was only yesterday that a fresh faced sixteen year old footballer named Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene with an outrageous winner against an Arsenal team in the midst of a 30 game unbeaten run.
Everton Football Club had unearthed a rare and precocious talent who at this early stage of his career would make the headlines for all the right reasons.
Thrust into the limelight from this precise moment, his career trajectory has seen him hit many dizzying heights and also monumental lows, as the legacy of Wayne Rooney can and will be debated long into the future.
His England career began in earnest with a friendly against Australia in 2003 as a second half substitute at the tender age of seventeen.
The following summer at Euro 2004, Rooney would leave his indelible mark on not just us as England fans, but the entire footballing landscape, as his rip roaring performances as a fearless eighteen year old catapulted his name alongside the likes of a young Pele and Maradona. It was certainly a warranted comparison as his performances were simply sensational.
England would eventually falter at the quarter final stage after the man himself broke his metatarsal in the opening ten minutes of the tie against Portugal.
Regardless of the harrowing timing of his injury, he left that summers tournament with four goals to his name and a reputation that was enhanced immeasurably. Unfortunately this would be the absolute peak of his international career with England.
Manchester United came knocking instantly and paid £28 million pounds for his services on his return. A record fee for a teenage footballer at this moment in time, his manager Alex Ferguson and the club were handsomely rewarded by their investment, as he duly delivered a glittering and trophy laden career at the theatre of dreams.
Paired with a young Cristiano Ronaldo, these two young stallions led Manchester United on a path of glory that garnered three Premier League titles in succession and the most treasured prize in the game, the European Cup in 2008.
At this juncture at appeared as if you could not split the two, in regards to who was the superior talent, as both Wayne and Cristiano were crucial cogs in the Manchester United machine.
Ronaldo eventually moved onto pastures new with Real Madrid as his standing in the sport rocketed into a new stratosphere, going on to amass a ludicrous 760 goals in his career and is still fighting fit at 36 years young for Juventus in Serie A.
Whilst Rooney had somewhat been left behind by the Portuguese marvel, his own remarkable scoring accomplishments for both club and country still command the upmost respect from any follower of the game. Scoring 253 goals for Manchester United and 53 goals for his country, eclipsing the the legendary Bobby Charlton on each occasion.
You could almost create a scrapbook of some of Rooney’s most exquisite strikes, as his eye for the spectacular created so many moments to treasure as football fans, and his overhead kick against Manchester City was duly voted as goal of the century by supporters across the country.
Despite his vastly impressive accolades, I sincerely believe with the right application and focus off the pitch Rooney could’ve tapped into his vast well of talent that much more, and taken his place at the table alongside the duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the conversation of who is the greatest of all time.
His early performances led us to believe that this was a genius in the making, and in patches of his career he delivered on that promise. However, when his off the field misdemeanors began to surface in the media his talents would often take a backseat to the controversy circling around him.
Allegations surrounding his private life have always followed Rooney throughout his time in the game, with infidelity, court cases, and contractual disputes all rearing their ugly heads at various points in his career, and these distractions can only serve to hinder the stroke of a footballing artist.
A five time Premier League winner, a three time League Cup holder, and the owner of both a FA Cup and Champions League winners medal, it seems unjust to criticize Rooney’s credentials. But much like Paul Gascoigne before him I feel that these issues did eventually put the brakes on a man who was destined for so much more in the game, despite admittedly already achieving so much.
Thus, I believe if Rooney had harnessed all of his god given talent and whole heartedly committed himself to the game like his old running buddy Cristiano Ronaldo, he could have led England to great success in both European Championships and World Cup tournaments.
Once dubbed the white Pele by adoring England supporters, it is suffice to say that looking back across his international career it is sadly littered with crushing disappointments. These should not attributed to him alone, but it is difficult to comprehend why after such a swashbuckling start to life in an England shirt that he only found the net in a World Cup on just one occasion in his career, a 2-1 defeat against Uruguay in Brazil 2014.
It is often discussed that his will to be a team player worked against him, as he was regularly willing to play out of position in order to make the team tick. This point is certainly valid but also his ill discipline would also cost England dearly in major tournaments, as red cards and a lack of anger management would often see Rooney sitting out games of the upmost importance.
The World Cup in 2006 instantly springs to mind with his red card in the quarter finals against Portugal and could be chalked up to inexperience, yet at our next major tournament in Euro 2012 we were shorn of our number one marksman once again, missing the first two group games due to a red card in the final match of qualifying against Montenegro.
To pin England’s failure on just one man is unjust, and is something I do not wish to do, as I feel that far too much weight was hung around Rooney’s neck in an era where quality English players coming through the ranks at club level were almost an oddity.
In stark contrast we currently we have an abundance of riches with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, and Marcus Rashford all showing the hallmarks of top international stalwarts for England.
Rooney often shouldered the burden of a nation and it would certainly have been a tough ask to deal with the immense pressure that was bestowed on him as our talisman and captain. However, I do feel that with greater application he could have accomplished truly monumental greatness and it is almost with regret that he has retired at the age of 36 having never fully fulfilled his astronomical potential.
Ultimately Wayne Rooney’s name will be etched into the record books as a Manchester United and England great due to his outstanding honors and goal records for both, yet the man himself continues to divide opinion in regards to his impact on the game during his playing years.
Management is now the next step for the Croxteth born, once wonderkid, and it is scarcely believable that he has reached retirement, proof that time does indeed fly.
I tip my hat to the man himself for a stellar career in football and wish him the very best in his new role at Derby County, and as a Manchester United fan I cherish some of the fantastic memories he provided us with at his rampaging best.
However, I will never be able to shirk the underlying feeling that there was always just a little more left in the tank.
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