5 times Wayne Rooney was a hero

Later on today Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League and in the bulk of the pre-match build up its been full of Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, two men who aren’t even going to be on the ptich.

Well I have woken this morning to news that Wayne Rooney has been viciously left out of United squad by Mourinho (he’s actually injured so calm down) and I for one am bored of the constant barrage of press coverage about the demise of Rooney, a man who is arguably the most naturally gifted English footballer since Paul Gascoigne.

Rooney is a player who gets abused when he fails and is abused when he succeeds, just look at the reception in the stands and in the media when he became England’s all time goalscorer. People were quick to belittle the achievement because of the standard of opposition, all the while forgetting that you can only beat what is put in front of you.

So what I have decided to is a post celebrating Wayne Rooney and ranking the top 5 times Wayne Rooney was a god.

Manchester United 6-2 Fenerbahce – 28th September 2004

On 31 August 2004 after a fantastic European Championship (we’ll get to that later), Wayne Rooney signed for Manchester United from Everton for an initial £20 million deal, signing a six year contract in the process.

After exploding on the scene with a 90th minute winner vs Arsenal as a 16 year old nearly two years previous, a lot was expected from the Scouse wonderkid at Old Trafford and nearly a month later he showed the Theatre of Dreams what he was all about.

 

It had been five years since Manchester United had won the Champions League on that famous night in Barcelona and five years since they were really one of the best sides in the competition.

Being knocked out early in the two previous seasons (to Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho’s Porto respectively) despite the fact Ruud Van Nistelrooy was scoring goals for fun it was apparent Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson needed something, or someone special to turn it around.

Enter 18 year old Wayne Rooney, at Old Trafford on his debut, in the Champions League. Could this kid kick start United’s season that at that point had made a stuttering start at best.

*An editorial interjection here, but on the day United’s midfield started as Bellion, Djemba Djemba, Kleberson and Giggs….wow*

After seven minutes United took the lead thanks to a Ryan Giggs header before it became The Wayne Rooney Show.

On 17 minutes Van Nistelrooy slipped him through one on one with the keeper and with one swift blast of his left foot rifled into the roof of the net. And that was just the beginning.

Just before the half hour mark Ryan Giggs played it square to Rooney who after dropping a shoulder to get a yard of space ahead of the defender fired a low shot from all of 25 yards which arrowd into the bottom corner. And after a Marcio Nobre goal for Fenerbahce just after half time Manchester United won a free kick. On the edge of the box. In front of the Stretford End.

Up steps Rooney to create history and cap off the most impressive debut I have ever seen. He took the free kick over the best Manchester United player of all time (in my opinion) in Ryan Giggs and World Cup winner Kleberson.

United went on to win 6-2 and Rooney started his road to Manchester United super-stardom and legendary status. He played with the pace and power usually seen with the more experienced players at that time. He grew from strength to strength and the rest was inevitable.

 

European Championships – 2004

As previously mentioned, Rooney exploded onto the scene in 2002 as a baby faced Evertonian. Two years later he went to the European Championships in Portugal as a baby faced Englishman, looking set to take the world by storm.

He was playing in a side that saw Michael Owen up front with him, a midfield of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes. A side with two of the best fullbacks the world has ever seen in Gary Neville and Ashley Cole. A side that had so much promise and didn’t deliver.

But Euro 2004 was the last time England had a “world class” side. Had it not been for a back pass from Steven Gerrard England would have avoided defeat in their first group game. But it was the second game where Rooney would continue to make history.

When Rooney netted his first of a well taken brace he became the youngest player to score a goal in a European Championships finals at just 18 years, 7 months and 24 days old. His goals were well taken as you would learn to expect from Rooney.

The first was a well placed header from a chipped cross to him from Michael Owen. It was a goal to settle nerves as England knew after losing their first game that anything else but a win wouldn’t be enough.

His second was fortunate but it killed the game. After substitute Darius Vassell (yes, seriously) fought off two Swiss defenders and had laid to ball to his left for Rooney to run onto he fired a crisp low shot from just inside the box which ricocheted off the post, hitting the helpless keeper and nestled into the bottom corner.

Gerrard scored a third late on but Rooney was the talk of the country. The new Gascoigne, the saviour, the future of England had arrived.

His stock grew in the third and final group game when he scored another brace in a 4-2 win over Croatia. It didn’t go to plan though when Niko Kovac put Croatia into the lead after five minutes.

However, Rooney would take the game by the scruff of the neck just before half time. Rooney picked the ball up and squared it into the path of Scholes who equalised for the Three Lions before setting Rooney up right on half time to blast England into the lead from the edge of the area.

The link up with Scholes continued after the break and Scholes nearly assisted a carbon copy of the goal but the keeper managed to deny the Evertonian on that occasion. Rooney hit his second brace in two games after exchanging passes with Owen on a counter attack and bearing down on goal to side foot a finish passed the keeper and carry England through to the next round of the Euros. England went on to win the game 4-2.

In the quarter finals England were going into the tie with Portugal as the tournaments top scorers and looked set to continue the trend when Owen fired England to a 1-0 lead inside three minutes.

And just three minutes short of the half hour mark the tournament was over for Rooney. After what appeared to be an innocuous collision with Jorge Andrade saw Rooney’s boot fly off in a challenge that had actually broken Rooney’s foot.

He was replaced by Darius Vassell and England let in a late equaliser. After going behind in extra time thanks to a Rui Costa goal, Frank Lampard equalised to send the game into England’s favourite way to decide a game, penalties.

Beckham slipped and after Vassell’s spot-kick was saved, Portugal went through thanks to a Ricardo penalty. The tournament and dream was over for another two years but England had a star on their hands. His move to Manchester United following this started to piece together an incredible story for Wayne Rooney.

 

 

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City – 12 February 2011

Saturday 12 February 2011. The day the world stood still for the lunchtime game and all eyes were centered on Old Trafford. Rooney had helped Manchester United regain both their domestic and European crowns thanks to a solid back five an incredible midfield and fellow superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov (more from them later), but the 2010/11 season was a different prospect altogether.

The season before saw United lose their Premier League title to Chelsea and had struggled to dominate teams in their first season in the post-Ronaldo era. Rooney had a spout of injuries in the first half of the 2010/11 season which saw Berbatov slowly become United’s main man. Question marks were thrown over Rooney for the first time in his United career and in one moment he not only won the game but regained the hearts of the millions of United fans around the world.

The game itself, a Manchester derby with a City side with bags of money and bags of potential and had threatened to mix it with the big boys at the top of the of the table. The match was a slug fest.

Edwin Van der Sar and Joe Hart had plenty to do in one of the most testing fixtures of the season. It had rained prior to the game so the ground was wet, the pitch cut up and the match poised at 1-1 after Nani had put United into the lead before an Edin Dzeko shot flew in off the back of David Silva. The game needed someone to produce a moment of genius and magic to decide it.

On 78 minutes, Rooney hit an overhead kick that paused time. It was almost a moment that even until now is the last time I actually screamed. He was once again Manchester United’s main man but he was once again their hero. A special moment that will live on in United folklore and Premier League history. United went on to win the Premier League and make the Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley…

 

UEFA Champions League Final: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United – 28 May 2011

Before this final you will be surprised to know that a lot of the build was that Wayne Rooney struggled in the last two previous Champions League finals in 2008 and 2009 and wouldn’t get many opportunities to do much better. It’s quite refreshing to know that things never change.

But anyway, Rooney was started in his favourite number 10 role behind Javier Hernandez. To some it was a surprise to see this start as at points in the season United opted for Rooney through the middle to enable a fifth midfielder in either Paul Scholes or a man for the big game in Darren Fletcher but Sir Alex went for the 4-4-1-1.

Defensively United were an ageing side with Van der Sar pushing 40 and the slow crack in the solid partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were starting to show due to injury more than ability. Patrice Evra was the other side of 30 as was Michael Carrick so Manchester United were looking for a new leader and on this day despite defeat, Rooney stood up and was counted.

Lets be honest, at this point in time Barcelona were one of the best club sides world football had ever seen. They swept aside teams from all corners of the world and were always going to be favourites for the final. They battered United who got drawn in to playing a deep, deep line.

It was inevitable on the day for Barca to go 1-0 up and on 27 minutes Pedro fired them into the lead. A few minutes later though United won possession from a throw in midway in the Barcelona half which saw Rooney exchange passes with Carrick, run towards the penalty box where he played a one-two with Ryan Giggs before firing an unstoppable shot past Victor Valdes to equalise with United’s first shot on target in the game.

Rooney’s determination brought United back into the game and even though Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners we learned that Rooney can do a more defensive job and had the leadership skills to carry his side forward even when some of their more experienced players went missing on the grandest stage.

He was key in the later flurry of chances United created and was the focal point of everything they had going forward. It was a great performance from the soon to be leader of the Red Devils.

 

Partnerships – Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin Van Persie

The key to a long footballing career is being able to adapt to the players around you. You need to be able to change the way you play to get the best result for the team even if it isn’t the best result for you as the individual.

In partnerships with the likes of Alan Smith, Louis Saha, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Tevez and Danny Welbeck, Rooney was still the main man but there were four key partnerships where he had to take the step back and try to be more of a creator to get the best out of his striking partner. I’ll look at them in order of how effective and key the partnership was. The first was his key partnership in a United shirt, with goal scoring machine Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

With Ruud the partnership was more of a learning curve for Rooney. There were times he had to step back and allow the Dutchman to show him how its done and be the main man. With Saha in the shadows as a supersub it was clear that Rooney was played with Ruud to take the strain off him and provide the spark and half chances for the prolific Van Nistelrooy to strut his stuff.

The one stand out goal was the goal at Charlton Athletic in Rooney’s first season where he went on a tricky and determined run down the left hand side before playing a ball across to Van Nistelrooy, of course the Dutchman did the rest with an unstoppable volley to start a budding relationship between the two.

Another game that highlighted their partnership was the 2-0 win over Arsenal that season, when Rooney and Ruud were still getting acquainted. Van Nistelrooy was still plagued by that infamous penalty miss against the Gunners the season before and had some demons to attend to.

It was a war on the Old Trafford turf. Arsenal, who were on game 50 of their Invincibles unbeaten run, were not going to just turn over for United that was for sure. Both Rooney and Van Nistelrooy scored the goals but Rooney allowed Van Nistelrooy to play his game and merely played a supporting role to the Dutch hero taking on the entire Arsenal.

 

Rooney’s partnership with Dimitar Berbatov came to a head and peaked for the 2010/11 season. After a year without Ronaldo, which saw Rooney take the bulk of the responsibility going forward for United, it was apparent that either United needed someone new or Berbatov needed to step up. What happened was both.

Sir Alex signed a fairly unknown Mexican striker who called himself Chicharito to assist in the goalscoring. They had promising young players in Danny Welbeck and Kiko Macheda coming through the ranks so it was looking decent for United.

But after Rooney found himself on the injured list up stepped Berbatov to fire in the goals. Most notably a hattrick against Liverpool at Old Trafford (editorial note, a day in my heart. The day I moved to Cheltenham for University) and a five goal showcase from the Bulgarian in a 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers. But it was the turn of the year when Rooney found his stride once again and the two combined the fire United to their first time post-Ronaldo.

Following Van Nistelrooy’s departure after the 2004/05 season, United had a year of uncertainty as to who would be the main man. Rooney filled the void but it was the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo as the superstar we see today.

Together, Rooney and Ronaldo won Manchester United three consecutive Premier League titles and helped them win a Champions League final and make a second successive final in 2008 and 2009. But it nearly never happened after the World Cup 2006.

Cristiano Ronaldo was dubbed “the Winker” after seemingly getting Rooney sent off in their quarter final tie between England and Portugal. Talk filled the pre-season that either Ronaldo was to leave United or Rooney would walk. As it turns out, they sorted out their differences behind closed doors and both showed the maturity to get on with life.

On the opening day, Rooney and Ronaldo linked up with the rest of the side to beat Fulham 5-1 and the rest was history. Three titles in the next three years and becoming superstars in the process. Ronaldo departed for his dream club, Real Madrid but Rooney stayed at the club that will always love him.

After Ronaldo’s departure there was talk that Rooney wanted out. Manchester United hadn’t replaced Ronaldo with the talent he had expected and now that super force Manchester City were threatening to take over English football, Rooney was scared that Manchester United would be left behind.

After the infamous end to the 2011/12 Premier League season that saw City snatch the title from their United rivals in the most exciting end to a Premier League season ever, United went and bought Robin van Persie from longstanding rivals, Arsenal.

The following season saw United regain their crown in what ended up being Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in management. Rooney and van Persie were like Forrest Gump and Jenny in the sense that they were like peas and carrots. They fit together perfectly.

Rooney was able to take a step back for the first time in about 3 or 4 years really from being the one to being one of a few. United that season had the typical Manchester United formula. A more solid back four with the emergence of Chris Smalling and Rafael as two of the best young defenders in the league, Michael Carrick and a now un-retired Paul Scholes with Giggs still there and quick wingers in Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani dominating opponents.

Most importantly though, they had four unbelievably talent strikers in Hernandez, Welbeck, Rooney and van Persie. Those four were compared to the four of the Treble winning 99 season (Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer and Sheringham) and rightly so.

Between them they injected the feel good factor back into Manchester United and it showcased just how good Rooney was as he was able to strike up a fourth frighteningly good partnership.

And there we have it. Wayne Rooney deserves respect and admiration for the career he has had. To most they won’t give him the love he has felt at Old Trafford because he plays for Manchester United but what every single football fan can appreciate when they look back at Wayne Rooney’s career on the eve of his 31st birthday just how talented this young boy from Croxteth, Liverpool actually was.

Wayne Rooney. One of the most naturally gifted players the Premier League has or will ever see.

Ryan Butler
@abaconButtee