Welcome to the second installment of the Wayne Rooney. Thus far the tale of Wazza is a mixed one. A stressful home environment juxtaposed with his rapid rise to stardom. Sir Alex Ferguson had recognized Rooney’s potential and snapped him up as a 19-year-old, but he was far from the finished article.
He immediately went on to star for England and was settling into his roll at Manchester United quickly. But Rooney’s temper began to get the better of him. He began sniping at teammates and would go in on aggressive, unnecessary and at times dangerous tackles.
He would goad opposition players, fume off the field when substituted and wasn’t afraid to callout a teammate on bad pass or an official for a disagreeable call. Wayne was becoming dangerously volatile.
Wayne Rooney was Spiraling
He had a bust up with David Beckham playing for England against Northern Ireland. England was playing poorly. Rooney was letting his temper fly, and after being shown a yellow for a series of bad tackles he began to turn his rage towards the ref.
Beckham was attempting to calm him down to avoid him being sent off when Rooney promptly told Becks to ‘fuck off.’ The argument continued at half time as a fuming Wayne Rooney continued to provoke his captain in the tunnel. Things eventually boiled over in the locker room.
There was a lot of name calling and the two had to be separated. Wayne even took verbal aim at coach Steve McClaren for trying to intervene. Eventually Sven-Goran Eriksson made his way to the dressing room to witness the chaos. He was ultimately able to calm Wazza down for the second half without further incident.
What was Sven Thinking?
The ever mature captain Becks played it all down as Rooney’s passion for the game in his post match interview. The two patched up their differences and moved on.
But, bad blood eventuated at Sven’s post match interview where he criticized Rooney for his behavior. He even went so far as to call him ‘stupid.’
Rooney didn’t take kindly to this and so his relationship with Sven quickly deteriorated before he was sacked. There was a lot of division in the dressing room and this only made it worse.
The Last Straw for Wayne Rooney
In that same season Rooney picked up his first infamous red card against Villarreal in the Champions League. In the 64th minute Wayne Rooney was booked with a yellow card for a soft tackle. Wazza, a petulant 19-year-old at the time, began clapping sarcastically in the referee’s face for what he thought was a weak call.
The referee was having none of it and immediately booked Rooney with a second yellow card and subsequent red card for dissent. After the final whistle, Wayne added insult to injury by verbally berating the ref in the tunnel. His red card and continued dissent post-match landed him a two-match ban from all UEFA competitions.
Even Sir Alex admitted post-match that the punishment was suiting, and Wayne deserved to be sent off for his behavior.
Wayne Rooney’s Revival
But, in the same interview he also pointed out that Wazza is the type of player that thrives flying a little too close to the sun. His fiery disposition was his superpower. People just needed to give Wayne time to develop and mature.
Ferguson recognized at this point that his biggest struggle with Rooney was going to be to teach him how to harness his superpower. Something Fergie was a master at.
This red card moment was the turning point for Wayne. Sure, there are many more moments to come in this story that represent the same peevishness, tenacity, and moxie, but this was the point where Wayne became wise to his aggression and learned to channel it appropriately.
He wasn’t perfect at it, but he was beginning to strategically pick his moments to unleash the beast.
Wayne Rooney Was at it With England, Again
Rooney would finish that season and make it through most of the next season with minimal further incident. However, another of Wazza’s most infamous moments was about to take place at the end of the 2006 season.
In the summer of 2006 was the World Cup. Naturally Wayne was selected for the England team. Unfortunately, he struggled to return to full fitness after picking up an injury at the tail end of Manchester United’s season.
In the quarter final against Portugal, Rooney’s temper would flair again. This was another game that I was at personally.
I can tell you from my vivid memory of the game that Wazza was struggling to influence play. He simply hadn’t regained match fitness and was playing at 75% for most of the tournament. This was not the first game of that World Cup that Rooney had gone missing in.
Against a Portugal team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne was struggling to maintain possession after being wrestled to the ground by two Portugal defenders.
The ref should have called a foul on either of the Portugal players, but he allowed play to go on. Wayne lost his temper in the heat of the moment and kicked back at Ricardo Carvalho as he tumbled to the ground, stepping on Carvalho’s groin.
Wayne protests that while he was clearly frustrated in the match it was never his intention to step on Carvalho.
It Was a Dirty, Dirty Tactic
With the Portugal defender riving on the ground in pain, most of the Portugal team rushed to the ref to shout for a red card. I remember watching and rolling my eyes as the Portuguese keeper was waiving his arms in the air, running half the length of the pitch to get in the ref’s face.
Even the coaching staff and players on the bench for Portugal were surrounding the fourth official whinging about the tackle. It was a dirty tactic, and one that worked like a charm.
In spite of the fouls on Wayne leading up to the stamp, or what Rooney’s intentions were, he was sent off. The ref saw it as aggravated and dangerous play which allowed him to overlook the fouls on Wayne prior to the incident.
Ronaldo Makes Matters Worse
It emerged during the game that Ronaldo, Rooney’s then teammate at United, was strongly petitioning the referee to red card his club mate. Ronaldo was also caught by the tv cameras sending a teasing wink to Rooney as he trudged off field. As if to say ‘jog on mate, this is my stage.’ Something most of us missed in the moment.
England went on to lose that game on penalties, ending the golden generation of English football’s hopes of ever winning a major trophy. It also made Wayne Rooney England’s public enemy no.1 and Ronaldo Manchester United’s public enemy no.1.
We left the stadium feeling devastated and angry for a second tournament in a row. I heard my dad mumbling the whole train ride back to the hotel that England would never win a major trophy in his lifetime. I could see him holding back tears and wanted to comfort him in some way. But I knew my dad was proud man, so I left him to wallow alone.
This was the greatest team England has assembled in decades and they couldn’t get it up when it mattered most…Twice.
The Tabloids Only Made Matters Worse
Speculation was rife after that game. Suddenly there was drama between Manchester United’s two marquee players. All summer, the media hyped a rift between the two. British tabloid headline’s read ‘The Wink Heard Around the World.’ and ‘Rooney and Ronaldo Not on Speaking Terms.’
As fans we expected an immediate bust up as soon a preseason began. But as much as this was the most hyped confrontation between teammates of all time, it was also the most anticlimactic. Upon return to preseason training both players recalled in later interviews simply shaking hands and moving on.
They recognized the mutual fight and grit in each other and vowed to use their powers in tandem to win trophies with Manchester United. And that was the end of it. Then United captain, Gary Neville recalls being summoned to Ferguson’s office with Ronaldo and Rooney for a clearing the air conversation that never happened. There was nothing to talk about.
The two budding superstars would combine for 31 goals in the 06/07 season on their way to toppling Chelsea to the Premier League title in rather dramatic fashion.
Enter David Moyes
But not all of this season was without controversy. In 2006, Rooney also released his autobiography. In it Wayne accused his former Everton coach David Moyes of leaking his reasons for leaving Everton in an attempt to save face for loosing the Toffies prized asset.
The allegations were false and made in haste. Moyes sued Rooney for slander. Ultimately the case was settled out of court after Rooney apologized in the media for making false and misleading claims.
Putting the incident behind them, both men chalked it up to youth.
Back to Court For Wayne
The 07/08 season would hold in store one of Rooney’s greatest accomplishments. But first…
The year began yet again marred by more legal issues for Rooney. When Wayne was still a teenager with Everton, his eventual agent Paul Stretford successfully solicited an eight-year contract from Wayne and his parents to represent him. The whole transaction went unreported to the FA or legal authorities.
However, Stretford was legally obligated to report this signing and was prohibited from soliciting a contract longer than six years by FA regulations.
When it emerged in 2004 at trial that Paul did so because he was being blackmailed by a shady boxing promoter the story exploded. It all came to a head in 2008 when he was found guilty on several counts, fined, and banned from football for eighteen months.
Stretford returned to football agenting after his ban, and decided to become a solo act, taking Rooney with him yet again. Stretford’s former agency then sued Rooney and Paul and won. They claimed that both Stretford and Rooney were liable for lost marketing revenue when Rooney left the firm. Rooney ended up paying out tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
But, Back to the Football
Rooney then started the season slow with a broken metatarsal in the opening game. After returning to training he then sprained his ankle. In total Wayne was sidelined for the first eight weeks of that campaign. He would finish that season with only 18 goals.
But, after the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne was given the no.10 jersey by Sir Alex. Rooney then overcame his injuries to help lead Manchester United to a second consecutive Premier League title and a Champions League final. Had he been fit all season we may have had a shout at the treble and he at the golden boot.
Greatness, Meet Wayne Rooney
On 21, May 2008 Manchester United, with Wayne Rooney, faced off against Chelsea in the first all English Champions League final. Yet another game I was fortunate enough to go to thanks again to my incredible dad.
He insisted at the beginning of the group stages that United would face either Barcelona or Real Madrid in the Final. I insisted they would face either Chelsea or Liverpool. So, we made a bet. IF it was an all-English final, he would get us tickets. I don’t need to tell you who won the bet.
A Bet that Changed My Life
The opening of this game felt like watching a heavy weight prize fight. The players all looked tense on both sides before the match. I watched as players eyeballed each other, sizing their opponents up, during the warmup. Fergie was already tensely chomping on his gum before the first whistle even blew.
During the opening minutes both teams were just trying to feel each other out. Vidic looked vicious in the tackle from the get-go. And on several occasions Ronaldo’s footwork and speed were simply too much for Essian, playing as a makeshift right-back.
Rooney, off to a Slow Start
But Tevez and Rooney couldn’t get on the end of anything, and Scholes was looking a little sluggish in midfield. By the 20th minute the tackles were flying in thick and fast. Scholes picked up a bloody nose after jumping in with an elbow against Florent Malouda. Still Rooney was strangely absent thus far. Exiled to the wing.
In the 26th minute the sublime would happen. United were working their way down the right with Wes Brown, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves. After a lovely one-two between Scholes and Brown, Brown found enough space to hook in a cross.
Who would be there, but Cristiano Ronaldo to guide the ball into the back of the net with one of his trademark headers. Tevez would go close a few more times before the half while Ballack and Lampard went close from distance a few times. The whole stadium was on its feet watching this battle of titans.
Rooney’s Frustration was Visibly Building
Wayne was being forced to play out wide, feeling he was sacrificed for Tevez and Ronaldo up front. The sacrifice ended up effecting Wayne’s game so much he was in tears after the game for how horribly he had played.
Then the worst happened just on the stroke of halftime. Vidic was tracking the run of Frank Lampard. In an attempt to cut out a through ball, Vidic slipped missing the ball and loosing his man. In an ocean of space Lampard slid the ball into the back of the net.
The mood at half time was tense. A dull murmur blanketed the stadium as the halftime festivities ensued. Fans on both sides of the game were entrenched in nervous chatter. I sat in my chair silent and anxious as my dad waded through the crowds to grab us fresh beers.
The Tension was Unbearable
After the half both teams tightened up. Most of the chances being created were outside the box or set pieces. Little chances were falling Wayne’s way. He and Tevez were getting in each other’s way and Ronaldo was beginning to turn on his one man show.
Rooney was dropping even deeper to receive the ball and continued to shift out wide, but Chelsea’s high line meant that Wayne was seldom in a position to positively effect play. United were beginning to live on the edge. Both Ferdinand and Vidic had gone in on tackles in the box that today would have been called as penalties.
United were lucky to make it to full time with a 1-1 draw. The game went into extra time. The anxious energy around the stadium was palpable. No one was leaving their seats for a toilet break or refreshments. We all eagerly waited the start of extra time.
And then there was Extra Time
Probably having been told by Sir Alex before the start of extra time that he was going to be subbed off, Wayne put his heart into the first half of extra time. He ran around like a man possessed throwing in tackles, shooting from 25m out, barking at the referee. But on the 101’ the inevitable happened, he was substituted for Nani.
To this day I can’t understand why he was subbed. He was our greatest goal threat towards the end of full time and in extra time, from his sheer energy and work rate. By the time he was taken off, it was clear that this game was going to a penalty shootout. And Fergie just took off one of our best penalty takers.
Chelsea was dominating all the match statistics. Possession, shots, progressive dribbles, set pieces, blocks, passing accuracy and passes completed, all in favor of Chelsea. But United were holding firm. I can only imagine Sir Alex had hoped that Nani’s pace and trickery would break through the stubborn Chelsea back line.
Considering throughout the game Tevez and Ronaldo were providing more of an attacking threat than Rooney and Nani was a more traditional winger, Wazza was the man Ferguson chose to sacrifice for that pace and trickery that Nani brings. It was a sign that Fergie wanted to go for the win in the dying minutes rather than push for a shootout.
A Modicum of Hope
When Drogba was sent off for smacking Vidic in the heat of the moment on the 118’ we all thought Fergie might have pulled an ace out of his sleeve with the Nani substitution. A man up, Nani and Ronaldo started to turn it on after the red card. But it was too little too late.
Chelsea and United went to penalties. The feeling in the stadium at the start of the shootout was so tense you could hit it with a metaphorical sledgehammer and the hammer would shatter.
I was discussing the game with my dad and some of the other fans around me while we waited for the shootout to start. We all had that seeded fear from Rooney being taken off. When Anderson, Carrick and Hargreaves are all taking penalties, it made us all wonder whether pulling Rooney was a good idea.
A Shootout for the Ages
Chelsea and United were level on pens, then Ronaldo stepped up. His penalty was saved…
My heart sank and when I turned to my dad I saw him slouched there holding his head in his hands. The man behind me began to cry. Intermittently between sobs, as Ronaldo slumped back to the center circle, I could hear the man mumbling ‘fucking Wazza.’
After that save the United end was silent. The metallic taste from the adrenaline was thick in my mouth. I remember feeling my hands clinched so tight my knuckles were white enough to make you think I was driving an F1 car at the Monaco GP.
Then a miracle happened. John Terry stepped up to the spot. He fatefully slipped missing his kick and we all erupted in elation. Stewards had to hold back the United fans from breaking through the barrier to the field. Rooney was stood on the touch line with the same anxious look that the rest of us United fans had on our faces.
VAN DER SAR SAVES!
I can’t remember much after that. Once Van der Sar saved Anelka’s penalty its all a blur. There was screaming, jumping, arms waving everywhere, fans pushing each other to try to rush the field. I was soaked in a combo of beer, sweat, soda and God knows what other fluids. Smoke filled the air from red flairs.
At some point I got elbowed in the face by another overjoyed fan, on accident and wound up with a black eye and a killer headache the next day.
Our seats were two rows up right next to the player tunnel. I wore my no.10 Rooney kit that day. As the players walked off the pitch after the medal ceremony, I got seven of them to sign the front of my shirt and I got Rooney to sign the number on the back. It remains one of my prized possessions to this day.
Other then my wedding night and the night my child was born it was the greatest night of my life. I remember turning to my dad as the stewards ushered us out of the stadium past a bunch of furious Chelsea fans. I fought to hold back tears of joy as he told me to enjoy it because you’ll never see a match like that again.
Only One Direction to Go From Greatness
This was arguably the apex of Rooney’s career. This moment would be the greatest accomplishment he would ever achieve on a football pitch.
The rest of his time at United, though successful by all counts, was hamstrung by his versatility, Sir Alex’s retirement and the cascade of managers that ensued post Fergie era. However, while less fruitful, he would still go on to break records and win an impressive library of trophies.
He would also set the football world alight with a bust up with legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, a social media scandal involving him cheating on his wife and one last hurrah towards greatness before fading into civilian life.
Stay tuned for the concluding part three of ‘The Tale of Wazza’ to learn how Wayne Rooney went from being one of several stars in the Manchester United galaxy to football luminary, mentor and would-be autocrat.