WAYNE’S WORLD: A very young Wayne Rooney before he was unleashed into the footballing world. AFP/VNA Photo
When he made his footballing debut for Everton 18 years ago, Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene with all guns blazing. When he officially retired from the game last week he went out with a whimper rather than a bang, and that was sad to see.
For me, Wayne Rooney was one of, if not the, greatest English footballers of the last generation. It’s difficult to lay down any comparisons with other players because he was quite simply one of a kind.
Having grown up in Liverpool, very close to the estate where Wayne was born, and working for a newspaper in the city at the time, I knew all about the player long before he was introduced to the world. When he was just a kid, aged 12, 13, 14, people in Liverpool knew Everton had this talented superstar in the making ready to unleash on the pitch.
When he made his debut for his boyhood club at the age of 16 in a 2-2 draw against Tottenham, the Spurs fans chanted “Who are you” every time he touched the ball.
Just a few days shy of turning 17, Rooney scored a last-minute winner against Arsenal, ending their unbeaten 30-game run and becoming the youngest ever Premier League goalscorer.
By then the secret was out, Tottenham supporters, and everyone else associated with the game knew exactly who Wayne Rooney was.
To understand the type of player he was, I think you need to look at the district of Liverpool where he was born and grew up. Although vastly improved these days, I think it's fair to say Croxteth, in the past, was a tough neighbourhood. Crime, unemployment and drug use were high and opportunities to make something of yourself were few and far between.
If Wayne wasn’t any good at football it would have been difficult to predict the path he would have taken in life.
Children in Croxteth grow up fast, you have to, and Wayne’s no-nonsense, tough as old boots, take no prisoners attitude on the pitch will have been nurtured playing the game on patches of grass growing up in his neighbourhood.
After the inevitable happened and Wayne left Everton for Manchester United in 2004 for what was at the time the highest fee ever paid for a player under the age of 20, the honours came rolling in.
During the 13 years with the Red Devils, Rooney won five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups, the Champion’s League and the Europa League.
He is still Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer (253) and he has scored the most goals for England (53).
Sure, the road to fame and fortune has been a little bumpy, and there have been times when Wayne’s off-the-pitch escapades have made headlines on the front rather than the back pages of newspapers.
But in a perverse and twisted sort of way, that kind of adds to his charm. He is a fighter, and despite whatever punches were thrown at him, Wayne got straight back up and did the business where it counted, on the football pitch.
When age got the better of him he left Manchester United and had a short spell back at Everton. Romantic more than practical really and after a stint playing in America, he returned to lower league Derby County as interim player-manager until he hung up his boots.
Last week when he decided to call it a day and concentrate solely on management little was said and few words written. And that’s a shame and the reason I’ve dedicated my column to him this week.
Wayne Rooney, I salute you. VNS