“Remember the name, Wayne Rooney!” exclaimed commentator Clive Tyldesley as one of the most exciting talents in English footballing history burst onto the scene ten years ago aged just 16, putting an unbeatable curling shot past Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman. He needn’t have bothered. In the decade since Rooney has never left the limelight. Remember him? Since 2002 you’ve been hardly able to avoid him.
The 26-year-old has scored a mesmerising 199 career goals to date and won almost every bit of silverware at club level there is to collect. Having moved to Manchester United from Everton in 2004 he has powered Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to four Premier League titles, two League Cups and a famous Champions League triumph in 2008 picking up along the way a wealth of personal accolades: PFA Players’ Player of the Year once, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year twice, EPL Goal of the Season three times and BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year to name but a few.
But there’s more to Rooney than his trophy cabinet. A bullish forward known for his charges at defenders and thunderous finishing, there’s a directness to the England international that makes him a thrill to watch, perhaps even more so than his counterparts in Spain and beyond. Leo Messi is beautiful to watch. Rooney is exhilarating, the explosive Michael Bay action movie to the Barcelona star's elegant art flick.
There have been English forwards arguably more talented but few more fascinating. Michael Owen may have been won the prestigious FIFA Balloon D’or player of the year award in 2001 but his career soon faded. Rooney meanwhile has maintained the incendiary form of his early years for a decade now with only occasional blips.
Though his career has been chequered by personal life scandals and intrusions of the press that have sometimes led to dips in form he always comes back stronger. When in 2010 it was alleged he had solicited prostitutes while his wife Colleen was pregnant his form dropped and he fell out with United boss Ferguson that led to him handing in a transfer request.
His time at the top is over, predicted critics. But months later he was back to his electrifying best and putting away an astonishing overhead kick that was to set his place in Premier League folklore in stone. A deflected David Silva effort had put Manchester City within sight of a crucial point in the battle for the 2010-11 title when a 77th minute cross from Nani found Rooney for him to power into the net with jaw-dropping technique. The goal was later voted the best Premier League finish since its inception some 20 years ago. “If I could have bottled the buzz, it would make the best fizzy drink ever,” remarked the striker in his recent autobiography.
Rooney has also proved his maturity as he has grown older. Though he was famously sent off in an international match against Montenegro putting a dent in England’s Euro 2012 hopes before the tournament had even began, the 26-year-old has otherwise curbed his volatile temperament. The striker went the entirety of the 2011-12 season without a booking for United and his disciplinary record so far this campaign is equally clean.
Some argue that the downside of conquering his temperament is he has lost a certain fieriness in pursuit of the ball. But there’s no debating that Rooney has evolved into a more commanding player as his United career has progressed. His pass completion rate now consistently sits above the 80% mark and he is equally happy providing – as he is scoring as his elated reaction to his two assists for new strike partner Robin van Persie in last night’s Champions League tie proved.
All that is left for Rooney to achieve is international glory. The forward has been notoriously unlucky on the world stage, with injuries and suspensions ritualistically popping up prior to tournaments. But with Roy Hodgson earlier this year marking the Man United man out as a future England captain and an exciting new breed of players coming through the ranks including Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere, a long-awaited tournament triumph may not be too far off.
That might seem a stretch of the imagination after a succession of humbling tournaments, but if there's one thing you should know about the illustrious Wayne Rooney, it's never write him off.
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