‘Remember the name, Wayne Rooney’. Any self respecting football fan will recall the words of Clive Tyldesley on the day a star was born. Against an Arsenal side undefeated in thirty fixtures, Wayne Rooney plucked the ball out of the air with consummate ease and delivered a bending shot past David Seaman to win the game for Everton in injury time. The boy from Merseyside was 5 days shy of his 17th birthday; he was on 80 quid a week. Everything changed. Forget putting yourself on the map, he became the map. And with it came the inevitable pressures and expectations of being an exciting English prospect. He’s the one; better than Owen, the best since Gazza. He could be as good as Maradona… he’s the white Pele. England are going to win the World Cup. Just a few of the assumptions Wayne Rooney created as he burst onto the scene with that goal. It’s hard to believe the mercurial talent is still only 24 but, as he enjoys the richest vein of goal scoring form in his career, is he announcing himself as one of the world’s greatest?
Having guided his club to another Wembley final with a last gasp header to defeat rivals Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson last night described Rooney as “truly world class”. A tremendous accolade to a player that appears to be revelling in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, with Rooney’s goals this season proving he thrives on the extra responsibility. Following his meteoric rise at Goodison Park, Rooney found himself on Ferguson’s shopping list at just 18 years old, albeit due to what now seems like a comical bid from Newcastle that forced United’s hand. Rooney had just returned from Euro 2004 whereby personal (if not national) success had persuaded Sir Alex he was worth the £30 million asking price. 4 goals in as many games let the whole football world know who Wayne Rooney was, before injury cruelly ruined his, and undoubtedly, England’s campaign. The man was raw, fearless. His United career began in similar vein; a champions league hat-trick on debut as he finished top scorer, although he had to settle for no silverware. However, in recent seasons, although his form has never dipped enough to warrant any genuine criticism, he has been a victim of expectation. We all wanted to see England have a world beater; he wasn’t quite there yet.
Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, was. While Wayne Rooney suffered the pain of a broken metatarsal for the second time, and a subsequent race against time to be fit for the World Cup, Ronaldo was about to propel himself to the summit of world football. Ronaldo began to stamp his authority on the game at the highest level during Germany 2006; Rooney ended up having an early bath, as England endured an early exit. “Please don’t kill Wayne Rooney, he is the golden boy of English football” were Sven’s parting words as England boss, and here started a transitional few years for the boy wonder Rooney. Now playing in the best Manchester United side in a decade, Rooney was about to achieve great domestic success. He has won 3 league titles, a Champions League and a League Cup in the last 3 years, averaging 15 league goals a season. However despite such success, niggling doubts remained as to whether he could achieve the potential he had shown in his teens. He was beating less men, his long range goals were no longer an every week occurrence. Throughout this period, Ronaldo was the most feared player on the planet; 65 goals in 2 seasons from a winger speaks for itself. Rooney had less responsibility than he had been accustomed to and took on a selfless task for the good of the team, as Ronaldo assumed a free role in any team selected. Rooney displayed a maturity far beyond his tender years throughout frustrating spells, not least when he was played out of position and substituted in both Champions League finals in the previous 2 years.
Now in a World Cup year and with Ronaldo at Madrid, Rooney has reaffirmed everyone’s belief in his abilities. Ronaldo left Old Trafford and the general consensus was that Rooney would take on the added responsibility. He hasn’t disappointed, with 21 goals already this season the only reason Manchester United’s evident problems haven’t been more prevalent. His all-round game is currently as good as it ever has been, and dare I say as good as any other striker in the world. He won’t stop Chelsea winning the league, but lets all pray England have their very own Roonaldo this summer!