Wayne Rooney: My Idol & Manchester United Great

From an explosive teenager to Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer. With everything to be won achieved, it’s safe to say that Wayne Rooney has earned the right to have his career described as legendary. 

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As someone born in 1998, my earliest memories of Wayne Rooney stretch back to Euro 2004 – the tournament his incredible talent was soon recognised by onlookers around the world. Four goals for the Three Lions gave England fans hope as the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ started to properly shape up.

A metatarsal injury 27 minutes into the quarter-final clash with Portugal saw the 18-year-old limp off before our fate was, once again, decided by the dreaded penalty shootout.

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What followed left Wayne with a major decision to make in regards to his career’s future. Summer 2004 saw Sir Alex Ferguson and eight-time Premiership champions Manchester United come knocking on the Goodison door. Rooney had been at his beloved Everton since 1996, however £25M was enough to lure the promising youngster away from his hometown to Old Trafford – the highest fee ever paid at the time for a player under twenty. 

United’s new No.8 had an instant impact on 5-year-old me from the day he first signed. Not even a month later, he was banging in a famous hat-trick against Fenerbahce in Europe’s most prestigious club tournament – it had dawned that it was him I wanted to be like.

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Shirts with his name and number printed on the back – England or United, I had to have it – several pairs of Nike Total 90 boots and trying to style my own football performance on what I was watching him do week in, week out. I did everything I could to be as much like Wayne Rooney as possible growing up, even demanding I have the No.10 shirt whilst playing for my local youth team on Saturday mornings just because he wears it.

I remember I was in Paris one time with my mum, her mum and my younger sister. I must’ve been around six or seven at the time as we found ourselves at Charles de Gaulle airport during the mid-naughties after a short break away to visit DisneyLand. We were heading back to the UK when the Frenchman checking our tickets for the flight said that I “looked like Wayne Rooney’s son“. He wasn’t yet a father to any of his three children so the airport employee was obviously complimenting my appearance’s likeliness to the United player himself – anyone else described as Wazza’s son and they probably would’ve been offended. I’m sure it was the ears that did it.

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Everyone has tried at least once to recreate a goal they’ve seen on the TV. My first memory of doing this was at my granddad’s house in the back garden, attempting to smash a volley into the top corner just as Rooney had done against Newcastle weeks before. Whether I got close or not I can’t remember.

Another of my favourite moments during his time in a United shirt was the last-gasp winner against AC Milan in the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2007. I was watching with my mum and dad in a London bar seeing as we were there for a two-day trip – my first experience of the English capital. An early Ronaldo goal and the score being at 2-2 during the closing stages is pretty much all I can remember from that clash with the Italians (I should clarify it was because of my age at the time, not because I was out on the slash). I’ve always remembered, however, a bloke telling me that Andrea Pirlo was going to convert a late free-kick around the United box – “this is the winner“, he said. He turned out to be completely wrong as it was the home side who eventually got the winner that night with Rooney smashing the ball passed Dida in the first minute of stoppage time. Hero.

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2009/10 is right up there with the great seasons I’ve experienced as a United fan, despite missing out on the title to Chelsea on goal-difference. It was probably so enjoyable as Rooney performed like an absolute machine, especially in the heading department.

Four goals against Hull City in the game at Old Trafford, three away to Portsmouth and countless headers all stick out to me when I look back and see the No.10 playing in that kit. A rapid, devastating counter-attack at the Emirates too, not to mention the celebrations after Michael Owen’s dramatic winner over Manchester City.

Rooney’s involvement during the knockout stages of the Champions League will always remind me of how I thought we might just make the final for a third straight season. Two headed efforts away at the San Siro plus another two goals in the return leg saw United stroll over what used to be a dominant Milan side. An early close-range volley fired United into a somewhat unexpected lead away to Bayern Munich just weeks later in the next round at the Allianz Arena; a pitch he’d only hop off late on following another ankle injury as the Germans snatched a crucial winner.

This injury and an early return from it signalled the end of his blistering performance throughout that year. United crashed out of the Champions League at Old Trafford, despite beating Bayern 3-2 on the night – I’ll never forget that Robben strike. I’ve always been convinced that that injury spoiled England’s chances at the World Cup, too.

Wayne Rooney ended the 09/10 season with 34 goals to his name at club level. How many more could he have scored? We’ll never know. Avoid that needless injury and United could’ve won their fourth Premier League title on the bounce.

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After years of glory and success in both domestic and European competitions, rumours were circulating that my favourite player was wanting to leave Old Trafford. What made it worse was that he was supposedly going to City – a club beginning to establish themselves as a strong side capable of challenging for trophies.

My 11-year-old self was convinced he was gone. Who would I idolise now?

Thankfully it was turned around and Wayne Rooney signed a new long-term contract with Manchester United. I had recently moved onto secondary education and on the way back one sunny afternoon, I first heard the news over the radio from the back of the minibus. There were two of us left to drop off: myself and a close mate of mine at the time. In a moment of pure excitement and relief, I had taken my polo shirt off and swung it above my head – weird, I know. That same evening I was playing football in the nearby field for hours, rekindling my love for a player I thought I was going to lose.

After a slow start to the campaign that same season, Rooney picked his game up from the turn of the year onwards. February 2011 saw one of the greatest goals ever witnessed at Old Trafford. Another United fan my age I was friendly with was lucky enough to have been there to see it live whereas I missed out on watching it unfold even on the telly. This was because I was out watching my mate’s dad referee a local football fixture. Unbelievable. I never used to enjoy the nerves before derbies or the other big games – particularly around those years – but I’ve always regretted not seeing that overhead kick hit the back of the net as it happened.

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Stellar performances in Europe saw us into our third Champions League final in four years – two of them just happened to be against arguably the greatest club side ever to grace the game. A goal at Wembley to equalise following Barcelona’s early breakthrough gave every United fan hope that night. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the Spanish side eventually ran away 3-1 winners at the home of football. Nevertheless, Rooney had regained fans he had lost over the course of the transfer saga earlier on that season – unsurprising considering it was him who had secured the famous nineteenth league title at Ewood Park.

His goal encrusted 2011/12 campaign saw United miss out on the title in heartbreaking fashion. Back-to-back hat-tricks were achieved at the start of the season at the expense of Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers, becoming only the fourth player to do so in Premier League history (Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Didier Drogba being the previous three, with Harry Kane joining the list during 16/17).

2012/13 ended with the Premier League trophy coming back to Old Trafford for a thirteenth time. Rooney had supposedly wished to sit the final fixtures out after handing in a transfer request to leave the club. Despite the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the decision was once again u-turned and the 28-year-old signed a new five-and-a-half year deal worth £300K a week.

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2014 saw the arrival of Louis Van Gaal after David Moyes – ‘the Chosen One‘ – was sacked after a subpar reign at Manchester United that lasted just nine months. The Dutchman appointed Wayne Rooney as his new captain for the club just weeks before he was announced as the new captain for England. A youngster I had been watching for years was quickly becoming a senior member of each team he featured for.

Captaincy caused Rooney to become far more reserved; even more so than in recent seasons. The fiery teenager was now a distant memory.

He won’t go down as the most successful captain in Manchester United history, however he did get his hands on four trophies that finally included the FA Cup in May 2016.

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What happened around half-a-year later in January 2017 was an historic moment for both player and club. 94 minutes had gone at the Bet365 Stadium as Stoke City looked certain for three points against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. After coming on as a substitute, step forward the captain to fire a brilliant free-kick into the far corner for goal number 250. Sir Bobby Charlton’s longstanding records for both club and country had now been broken by Wayne Rooney.

With Europa League glory at the end of the season, Rooney’s trophy cabinet was brimming with almost everything – the only absentee I can think of being the UEFA Super Cup that he lost out on to Zenit St Petersburg in 2008.

Competition medals, personal accolades, records and a stacked collection of memorable moments. Previous actions force some to shun Wayne Rooney legendary status but, to me, his achievements and his impact on a personal level will always be enough for him to have that.

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After 13 unforgettable seasons at my supported club, his time has come to an inevitable end. Watching videos of times gone by – regardless of how tough it was to get through them without being devastated – reminded me as to why he has been my idol for so, so long.

It’s hard to see him in colours of another club but I’m glad it’s somewhere he wants to be and can shine once again.

Good luck at Everton, Wayne, and I’d like to thank you for everything!

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