SO one of the most glorious careers in English football history ended, without fanfare, in a 3-0 Championship defeat for Derby County at Middlesbrough in November.
After that ignominious loss, Derby’s players were blasted for their ‘unacceptable’ attitude by Liam Rosenior, one of a four-man interim coaching team.
Wayne Rooney scored some of the finest goals of the modern eraCredit: Action Images – Reuters
The Merseyside-born teenager burst onto the scene with this screamer against ArsenalCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
Six weeks later, Wayne Rooney, another of that caretaker quartet, has accepted the Pride Park manager’s job on a full-term basis and officially ended an extraordinary 19-year playing career.
It all began in October 2002, with an exhilarating first Premier League goal – Rooney curling in a 30-yard last-minute winner for Everton, which crashed off the underside of the bar to beat an Arsenal team, who would be invincible the following season.
That goal arrived five days short of his 17th birthday, making him the youngest Premier League goalscorer at the time, and prompting commentator Clive Tyldesley to exclaim ‘Remember the name – Wayne Rooney!’
English football will never forget the name. Indeed, it would be by far the most-mentioned name in our game for the next decade and a half.
Rooney would go on to become the record goalscorer for both England’s national team and its most famous club, Manchester United.
In doing so he overhauled the achievements of Sir Bobby Charlton in both instances, with a penalty against Switzerland in 2015 and with a brilliant free-kick at Stoke in 2017.
He scored 53 times in 120 matches for England, 253 in 559 for United and 313 in 763 senior matches overall.
With 208 Premier League goals, Rooney stands second only to Alan Shearer.
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Yet Rooney was far more than an out-and-out scorer – a creative No 10 who would spend most of his last four years in a deeper midfield role.
And he was not just a great goalscorer but a scorer of truly great goals too.
That first one, past David Seaman at Goodison Park. The stunning acrobatic volley to settle a Manchester derby in 2011.
A ridiculous 50-yarder at West Ham’s Upton Park. Those volleys against Fenerbahce, on his United debut, and Newcastle the year after.
Few have scored so many goals and few have scored so many memorable ones either.
Yet there is somehow still a feeling – incredible but genuine – that Rooney was not quite as great as we had imagined he might be.
Rooney had been hyped, long and hard, even before his Everton debut, so astonishing was his talent.
Angelic feet which belied his bullish physique, which in turn, belied his tender years.
This iconic strike against Man City was arguably his greatest ever goal
To have witnessed Rooney tearing it up for England, while still a teenager at Euro 2004, was to imagine a future all-time world great.
And Rooney was never quite that. Chiefly because of his inability to inspire England, or even to seriously impress individually, at any of his five subsequent tournaments.
Rooney is a contemporary of his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo andtwo years older than Lionel Messi. We imagined him at their stratospheric levels but perhaps those expectations were always too extreme.
Yet on a week-in, week-out basis, Rooney delivered for United – winning five Premier League titles, a Champions League, three League Cups and an FA Cup in 2016, which was so long-awaited that he regards it as his career highlight.
His career included several great controversies – magnified by his extreme celebrity.
There was a costly red card against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final and a transfer request in an apparent attempt to force a move across Manchester to City.
Then there were off-field indiscretions in his early years, and others which helped cut short his England career and a stint in Major League Soccer with DC United.
As Sir Alex Ferguson often said, Rooney was not a natural athlete, and neither was he always a consummate professional.
The Three Lions’ record goalscorer has been appointed permanent manager of Derby
Wayne Rooney’s playing career
Wayne Rooney has retired from playing after an illustrious 19-year career.
Everton (2002-04) 77 17
Man Utd (2004-17) 559 253
Everton (2017-18) 40 11
D.C United (2018-20) 52 25
Derby (2020) 35 7
TOTAL 763 313
England (2003-18) 120 53
Yet there was always a deep and obvious love for the game, and an unmistakable commitment out on the field, which should serve him well as a manager.
Rooney was a thrilling player, a genuine street footballer and a supreme filler of onion bags.
And if he didn’t become quite the player we had hoped, then he did become a more impressive man than we’d supposed.
This was a monosyllabic Croxteth kid who would become an articulate captain of England and United.
Wayne Rooney’s best career goals
HERE are SunSport’s favourite Rooney goals
EVERTON v Arsenal 2002
A 16-year-old Rooney brilliantly controlled a long ball before curling a shot past England keeper David Seaman off the the underside of the bar.
MAN UTD v Newcastle 2005
The United striker was whinging at the referee before springing to life and walloping a first time volley from 25 yards into the top corner.
MAN UTD v Man City 2011
Some argue it came off his shin but nonetheless Rooney’s bicycle kick, from Nani’s deflected looping cross, against United’s noisy neighbours is a classic.
Brazil v ENGLAND 2013
Rooney’s curling strike was a goal fit for the iconic Maracana and left the Samba stars stunned.
West Ham v MAN UTD 2014 & EVERTON v West Ham 2017
Rooney hammered the Hammers from inside his own half TWICE – one a volley at Upton Park for United, the other an arrowed finish at Goodison.
In his earlier years, few would have foreseen Rooney as a manager.
But in his latter years, it was difficult to believe that this day wouldn’t arrive.
Rooney has improved Derby’s fortunes since becoming their sole caretaker manager and now he assumes permanent responsibility at a big club, during uncertain times.
Should he be half as successful in the dugout as he was on the pitch, then he will be a seriously good manager.
And as Rooney signs off from such a monumental playing career, with talk of ‘if onlys’, then that is probably our fault rather than his.
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