Back in the autumn of 2002, a young 16 year old making his debut for the blue of Everton would become an English phenomenon, making back, and front page headlines for all the right… and sometimes wrong reasons. Little did we know, this young kid had the whole world at his feet.
Wayne Rooney first caught the eye with a stunning last minute winner against Arsenal at Goodison Park, becoming, at the time the youngest goalscorer in premier league history. This would become one of many records Wayne would go on to break. It quickly became apparent he had that something special and it wasn’t long before a host of clubs were after his services; the club that won them, of course, was Manchester United.
The reds paid £26 million plus add ons for this talent, a monumental fee for someone so young. The transfer instantly made him a favourite at the Theatre of Dreams but quickly a resentment was forged from fans of the toffees and hostility from Liverpool being a scouser himself… This would be the start of something Wayne would have to carry on his shoulders all through his career.
On his debut for United, in the cauldron of Champions League football, what a way to announce yourself on the world stage, a hat trick, on debut in a 6-2 victory against Fenerbahce. A successful career had begun, for club and for country. But how does Rooney compare to United’s greats, as an English great or even as a world great?
Now, at the age of 30 we can see a more mature Wayne Rooney, he captains club and country and will no doubt not only break Sir Bobby Charltons Manchester United and England’s goalscoring records, he will smash them and it will take someone special once again to catch him. Comparing anyone to Bobby Charlton is unfair, the man was a true legend for club and country, being a part of that tragic night in Munich then going on to lift the World Cup in 1966 and the European cup for United in 1968 is simply unbalanced.
There is the famous saying “he’s not only a great goalscorer, but a scorer of great goals”. You can definitely add this tag to Wayne’s cv. What the statss won’t tell you in 20 years time is Rooney’s work ethic. You get goal poachers, or strikers that like to run in behind, drop off or can hold the ball up. You also get strikers that are good in the air, strong and can score from anywhere. I think we can say Rooney fits the mould of all of these. He is dynamic and ruthless, so good infact it can be detrimental to his game, at the request of his manager Wayne sacrifices himself and plays out wide, or he plays as a central midfielder. Why? Even though he is a forward, he is often still the best midfielder or winger available.
Aside from the inner sanctuary of Old Trafford he has had to endure a volley of hatred from opposing fans alike the majority of his career. Often, in his younger days, this would cause him to lash out, resulting in the odd red card. He has had the hopes of a nation on his shoulders for much of his career, the pressure cooker of international football combined with England’s constant failure at major championships make him the perfect scapegoat for fans to vent their anger. Fickle fans around the country believe he shouldn’t even be in the starting line up for England, never mind captain. Harry Kane should be there instead, supposedly. Well hasn’t he just set the under 21 championships alight?
He may well have only scored 1 goal in a World Cup over his career, compare this to Bobby Charlton who has won the cup, again an unfair comparison to a true, true legend of World Cup football. Compare him to Gary Lineker, already ahead of him in goals scored, but Gary scored 10 of his goals in World Cup Finals. A memorable achievement and an England great. Charlton played in a team of world beaters, Lineker was a top notch finisher and had the players around him to give him the service he needs. Rooney however, is England’s standout player. The only standout player. He alone has to carry England through games. Strangely this once young teenager is now England and United’s senior statesman.
Wayne is and will become a club legend, sat alongside the likes of Charlton and Best, Giggs and Scholes but one thing he will never shake off, and still makes United fans bitter were his announcements to leave the club. In 2010 he declared he wanted to leave Manchester and look for pastures new, or was he just maneuvering himself into a position for a new bumper contract, whatever his reasons, his u-turn certainly earned him this huge contract. If this wasn’t bad enough, again, this time in 2013 Rooney attempted to bludgeon his way to Chelsea. United obviously refuted this, they would never sell their best player to their title challenging rivals. In a twist United yet again offered Wayne a new super contract extension to stay, and stay he did, becoming the captain he is today. This will forever leave a sour taste in the mouths of United fans, no matter how great he is, or will become.
All in all, Wayne Rooney has had to deal with pressure from an early age not most are used to. Is he an all time world great? Charlton? Pele? Eusebio? Maradona? Ronaldo? Cruyff? You would think he is not in this category, he has not done it on the world stage when it has mattered. An England great? Yes, despite his haters, he is and has been England’s talisman for years and it is only a matter of time before he breaks the goal scoring record. A Manchester United legend? Undoubtedly, only his lack of loyalty will be a blemish and a stain he will not remove. But if he does eventually hang up his boots at United he will by then have the English and United’s leading goalscorer records in the bag and will be spoken of in the same breath we now talk of Best, Charlton and Law in the decades to come.