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Wayne Rooney retires: Reflecting on the career of an England football great

Published on: 15 January 2021

It was a moment no football fan will ever forget.

A young, unknown academy graduate seizing his chance in the limelight, the clock rapidly ticking down at Goodison Park and a packed stadium collectively holding its breath.

With a baggy, oversized blue shirt billowing in the wind, the fresh-faced schoolboy effortlessly plucks the ball from the air before turning on veteran Arsenal defender Lauren and creating a pocket of space.

The Arsenal defence sit back, safe in the knowledge the teenager is some 35 yards from goal. Yet he doesn't need to think twice, what comes next is pure instinct.

Two touches, no more are needed. A vision of the goal has already been formed in the mind and the top corner is set to bulge. Legendary goalkeeper David Seaman will not be having any say in the matter.

The ball leaves the foot of the diminutive star, aged just 16 years and 360 days, and for a brief moment time stands still.

A void, before the now immortal words of commentator Clive Tyldesley pierced the silence: 'Oh brilliant goal, a brilliant goal! Remember the name, Wayne Rooney!'

Over 18-years have passed since that hallowed strike which will forever sit in the football hall of fame, and now English football says farewell to one of its all-time greats.

Rooney's retirement, announced on Friday, draws to a close a career which has truly seen it all. Highs, lows and a vast abundance of silverware.

The boy from Croxteth will of course remain in the game as he transitions to full-time management with Derby County, yet many will feel an enduring sense of sadness at the confirmation of Rooney's boots being hung on the peg for the final time.

Regardless of allegiance, football fans across the length and breadth of the British isles, if not the world, have had their love of football entwined with Rooney's career.

Older generations saw him as the young upstart coming through, others of a similar age to the striker on his debut were given the first real glimpse of a local lad becoming a world beater, and lived vicariously through him as his career progressed at an astronomical rate.

For others, he was the experienced captain of Manchester United and England and somebody to aspire to be as they grew older.

With 'that' famous goal against Arsene Wenger's unstoppable Arsenal at Goodison, Rooney not only clinched an iconic last-gasp victory, but became the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history as a result.

His career would start with the breaking of records, and finally conclude with some of the biggest milestones in football accomplished. Rooney remains United and England's all-time leading goalscorer, and sits second only to Alan Shearer in all-time Premier League goals.

Just four months after bursting onto the scene with his debut strike, Rooney would become the youngest player ever to turn out in the England shirt (aged 17 years and 111 days in a friendly defeat against Australia).

It was quite the honour, yet seemed inevitable; Rooney was getting so good at such a rapid pace, it was only natural that he would soon burst from the Everton cocoon.

Rooney became available on the market the next year following a transfer request in August 2004, and legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson didn't even flinch before parting with just shy of £30million to secure his services.

Such a figure was seen as eye-watering 16-years ago, especially for a player so unproven. Rooney's rise however simply could not be quelled, and the Liverpudlian smashed home a hat-trick on his United debut, during a 6-2 victory against Turkish giants Fenerbahce in the Champions League.

It made him the fifth-youngest player to score a hat-trick in the history of the European Cup and the youngest Englishman to do so. Only eight other players have scored a hat-trick on their Champions League debut.

Rooney was flying and the sky was the limit, yet so with it came the crippling weight of expectancy. Now entirely vital for both club and country, the mileage started amassing on the youngster's body which many believe accounted for a decline in later years.

Nonetheless, Rooney sent a true statement to the world when he traveled with England to Euro 2004. It was a flawless tournament from the 18-year-old, with many football fans and pundits still today of the opinion that England would have gone on to lift the trophy had Rooney not limped off against hosts Portugal in the semis.

Despite this Rooney returned better than ever for the Three Lions, scoring goals at a frantic pace. The highs, however, were always naturally marred by lows.

The Portugal connection would sting Rooney again when, at the 2006 World Cup, he was sent off for kicking out at Ricardo Carvalho. An iconic photograph of Rooney staring up blankly at referee Horacio Marcelo Elizondo's red card remains, pain evidently clouding his eyes.

Rooney was England's force, hope and enduring lifeline. As he left the pitch, so did a nation's dream of seeing the Jules Rimet come home.

The international career of the striker will always be a talking point, and no two opinions will be the same. Rooney wore his heart on his sleeve for the Three Lions and it often came back to bite him, as was seen most clearly following a drab goalless stalemate with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup.

Fuming with England's performance and the dissatisfaction he heard coming from the stands, Rooney, growing puce in the face, snarled into the camera at the final whistle: 'Nice to see your own fans booing you, that's what loyal support is!'

It was an error of judgement from the Liverpudlian, which he later had no issue admitting. Yet in a way it best encapsulated Rooney. The street footballer who never lost his childhood passion - and aggression - for the game he loved.

Nothing with Rooney was sanitised or censored. Football had given him everything and in turn he would give every last part of himself back. Losing games bothered Rooney, invoking a deep rage that many top flight players in the current era appear to lack.

There would never be a trophy to show for his time in an England shirt, though Rooney took great pride in dismantling the endeavors of Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and finally Sir Bobby Charlton in becoming the nation's all-time leading goalscorer with 53.

Indiscretions were mixed within the jubilation. In 2016 Rooney's infamous gate-crashing of a wedding reception at a Hertfordshire hotel while on England duty and intoxicated attempts to play the piano left Gareth Southgate furious with his captain.

Yet Rooney remained, riding the rough waves with the smooth. To this day he still stands as England most-capped outfield player with 120 appearances, falling just five shy of goalkeeper Peter Shilton's overall record.

Domestically, however, Rooney would fill the trophy void. With United he lifted five Premier League titles and was pivotal in each. An FA Cup and four league cup titles would follow, before that famous rain-soaked night in Moscow when the Champions League trophy finally donned the red ribbons of Manchester once more.

Rooney's final United honour arrived in May 2017 inside Stockholm's Friends Arena, lifting the dead weight of the Europa League trophy into the Swedish night sky as captain of his beloved club.

It was a tear-tinged farewell, but Rooney hadn't quite finished pulling on the heart-strings just yet.

One final swansong with Everton beckoned, as Rooney sported the famous blue shirt for one last dance during the 2017-18 season.

He would make 31 Premier League appearances and score 10 goals for his boyhood club, as heartbroken Evertonians were finally able to give the local hero the goodbye he never had in 2004.

A subsequent fleeting spell at DC United granted Rooney the rare gift of going incognito. In the States the star could walk about freely, without worry of approach from a different stranger on every street corner.

After an exhausting career with the eyes of the world on his every move, it was liberating for Rooney. His enjoyment of life was soon reflected in his football, with the veteran star scoring 25 goals in 52 appearances.

But English football would always remain his love, and it came as a surprise to nobody that Rooney would hang up his boots where it all began.

A brief playing career with the Rams now sees Rooney become Derby County manager and a new chapter begins.

More words will be written and more pages will be filled, yet bookmarks will always be placed between the halcyon period of 2004 to 2017 and Rooney's relentless journey to the summit of world football.

Now sporting the manager's suit and now calling the technical area, rather than the penalty area, his home, Rooney will be keen only to look forward and focus on the task ahead.

Occasionally, though, we'll all take comfort in looking back.


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