Lauded as a teenager, Wayne Rooney has begun to demonstrate the full range of his talents this season
Everton fans never doubted Wayne Rooney’s potential; nor did Manchester United fans, though they may have wondered about the timeline. Sven Goran Eriksson, meanwhile, was never in any doubt.
The Swede, during his spell as manager of England, may have been blandly diplomatic about his players on occasion, but about Rooney he never wavered: “The most remarkably talented young player I have ever worked with.”
Considering that Eriksson had worked with the best youngsters in re-emerging Sweden, then at the highest levels in Italy and Portugal – and spent vast amounts of time visiting and observing in other top nations – that was praise indeed.
Now 24, Rooney appears on the brink of fulfilling all that potential with both club and country, just over seven years since first shooting – literally – to fame when, in October 2002, he scored a spectacular last-minute winner for Everton against Arsenal.
His senior England debut in February 2003 saw him become the country’s youngest international at the time, and he remains England’s youngest goalscorer courtesy of a strike against Macedonia in September 2003.
A broken metatarsal in the quarter-finals against Portugal wrecked Euro 2004 for Rooney (and England) after he had run up four goals against Switzerland and Croatia in the group stage.
Two years later the same jinx opposition saw England halted at the quarter-finals stage in the 2006 World Cup after Rooney was sent off in disgrace for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Some excused Rooney’s petulance on the nervy panic which surrounded his late recovery from a foot injury.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a United team-mate at the time, aroused intense ire within the English game for a wink to Portugal’s bench as Rooney tramped from the pitch in Gelsenkirchen. Now, with roles reversed, it has been Ronaldo’s own departure (for Real Madrid) which has opened the way for Rooney’s step up in quality and effect.
In European qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, only Greece’s Theo Gekas scored more than Rooney’s nine goals in nine matches – and his domestic form has been magisterial, freed to lead the United attack with power, pace and drive.
In the League Cup Final against Aston Villa he came off the bench just before half-time, despite a knee problem, to score the winner – with a remarkable seventh headed goal out of his last eight.
That goal was Rooney’s 28th of the season in all competitions, a total which included the 23 in the Premier League to fire him into leadership of not domestic competition (four clear of Didier Drogba) but also of the pan-European Golden Shoe.
Rooney leads the ESM standings, ahead of Ajax forward Luis Suarez, Drogba and Antonio Di Natale of Udinese.
Rooney has been in unstoppable form. In the short term, Chelsea should beware; in the longer term, so should every other nation heading for the World Cup finals.