The Great Wazza
Welcome to another installment to the Manchester United’s Heroes and Legends series. This time we dive into the extraordinary life of Wayne Rooney. A street footballer turned icon.
Most of us sports fans endear ourselves to that one player whom we covet higher than all others.
Not just a player that we admire or love to watch. Not just a player that becomes a club legend or matchday hero. But a player that genuinely speaks to us. A player that reaches us on a visceral level, that we can’t help but love even when they disappoint us. For me that man is Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately, I was simply too young to appreciate the Manchester United of the 80’s and 90’s. The class of 92’, the Cantona and Keane years, even the 99′ treble, they are all a blur.
Welcome to the World Mr. Wayne Rooney
But, in 2004 when Wayne Rooney announced himself to the world at Euro 04, I was there. My dad got us tickets to four games at Euro 04. One of those games was the group stage match England vs Switzerland.
I remember the atmosphere vividly.
The stadium was writhe with anxious energy and anticipation as we awaited England to take the field. It was hot and a little muggy, my face paint had already started smearing before kickoff. The air was thick with the smell of beer, sweat and fresh cut grass.
There hadn’t been this much expectation placed on an England team in decades.
This was a squad that included Beckham, Neville, Scholes, Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Cole, Owen, Terry…It was England’s golden generation at their best and Rooney was one of the biggest prospects in the team. (that is saying a lot considering that line up)
Anticipation and Domination
When The Three Lions took the field there was a roar that engulfed the stadium. You could feel the sound of 50,000+ fans screaming, reverberating through your entire body. The sheer power of the noise in that stadium made me feel as if my heart was going to thump out of my chest.
Chants of ‘Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!’ shook the stands as England’s no.9 walked onto the field, looking menacing as ever.
I remember looking at my beer, watching the ripples and vibrations on the surface of the liquid sitting in the cup holder in front of me and thinking, ‘am I in a Jurassic Park movie?’
Rooney would go on to dominate this game, scoring a brace as England won 3-1. More than half an hour after the teams departed field chants of ‘Rooney!…” were still ringing as tens of thousands of fans, my dad and I included, stayed behind to serenade the players after full time.
It was an atmosphere I have never experienced at an international game before or since. I left the stadium with so much anxious exhilaration I couldn’t sleep for days. Though some of that might be attributed to the fact I had just turned 18, the legal drinking age in Portugal.
All Hype and No Unity
The other match we went to was the quarterfinal, England vs Portugal. While the anticipation and energy leading up to this match was on par with the previous game I had attended, something still felt different leading into this match.
England had felt disjointed in most of their games thus far in the tournament. There was a consensus amongst a lot of the fans I talked to that we had made it this far on sheer individual talent…And Rooney’s outstanding performances. But we all agreed that team unity was seriously lacking.
Many of us began to develop a visceral sense of division in the team. We could feel, through their performances, that club rivalries were creating a lack of cohesion and a supercilious sense of division in squad.
Rooney’s False Start
If you have ever had that inherent feeling of premature failure, then you will know the mood of the stadium leading into the Portugal match. Maybe it was the disposition and expectation of the fans, maybe it was the body language of the players but there was sense of self-fulfilling prophecy to this game.
Rooney went on to pick up a tournament ending injury in the early stages of the game. England continued with another disjointed performance and were soundly beaten by Portugal. This loss subsequently eliminated them from the tournament.
Their disappointment was felt by the entire nation. Players and coaches were ridiculed in the media as fans attempted to find an explanation for England’s dull and doomed tournamnet.
In spite of England’s failure, I became obsessed with Wayne Rooney. Wazza was my footballing drug of choice.
He may have been injured and England may have failed spectacularly but Rooney was a Pitbull. Playing against some of the greatest players in the game, a 19 year old Wayne Rooney, never backed down and fought until his tragic end. Exactly my favorite kind of player.
I Love a Good Prank!
When Manchester United signed Wayne, I was so overjoyed that I decided to play a little prank on my dad and brothers who are all United haters. I went into their closets, I took ALL their England kits, they had eleven between the two of them, and I had them all printed with No. 9 Rooney on the back.
To this day I have not been forgiven. If anything, the animosity from my brothers and dad only increased as Rooney became more successful at United. But as you read his story and hear the records he’s broken I think by the end you will agree that I get the last laugh.
Always Making Headlines
There isn’t anything that I can say about Wayne that hasn’t already been discussed at length in the media, numerous documentaries, books, or interviews. Thus, this series will focus on the events of Wayne Rooney’s life that I believe represent the tenacious street footballer aura that defined Rooney’s style of play.
The shenanigans, the dressing room and on field bust ups. The moments that get you out of your seat that you can’t help but applaud the sheer brilliance (thinking of THAT overhead kick against City). His defiance of Sir Alex, a cheating scandal, a drunken arrest scandal, multiple social media scandals, this story has it all.
Even his wife, Coleen adds to the drama.
It’s A Hard Knock Life For Wayne
Wayne Mark Rooney was born on 24, October 1985 in the Croxeth Town area of Liverpool. Wayne grew up with a love for boxing and football from an early age. As a young boy Everton was his first love.
Corxeth was an exceptionally dangerous place in Liverpool at the time of Wayne’s upbringing. Violence and crime were a part of daily life for Rooney.
Wayne once described, in an interview, a tragedy that has always stuck with him. A young boy he knew from school had been fatally shot and robbed on his way home after class. He didn’t know the boy well, but they were in the same classes so Wayne describes how profound the moment was in several interviews.
Adding insult to injury, Wayne also unfortunately, grew up in a household that I personally would define as abusive.
Rooney’s Home Life
His father was known to be a friend of the drink but was not known to be all that kind or empathetic while intoxicated. His dad could at times, be verbally abusive and distant.
When opening up in a recent documentary, Rooney admitted that his father was never shy of smacking him around sober or otherwise if he got too testy.
If you’re a Ted Lasso fan think of Jamie Tart finally standing up to his verbally abusive father in season two and you will get a good picture of Wayne’s relationship with his dad.
All of this fueled his pertinacity and grit.
It should also be said that he and his father have reconciled and seem to have a normal relationship at present.
A Boxer at Heart
He grew up in a family of dedicated but hardly successfully boxers. You wouldn’t guess that at this point in life Rooney still saw himself as more of a fighter not a footballer. It took some convincing to get Wayne to sign on with his local youth team, Liverpool Schoolboys.
Boxing was in his blood. On several occasions Rooney described a sense of legacy with boxing as a child. He wanted to fulfill a family tradition.
But his love for football grew quickly, almost a little too quickly.
Breaking Records from Day One
Rooney was setting records even as youth player. He began playing organized football for Liverpool Schoolboys as a six year old.
At the age of seven he set a record of 72 goals in a single season for the Schoolboys. A record that stood for almost fifteen years.
As an U9 player he began playing competitive, professional development football. Rooney joined local team Copplehouse Boys’ Club and Everton U9’s simultaneously. He scored 99 goals in his first season just for the Boys’ while also playing for Everton U9’s.
Joining Everton as a U9
He first caught the eye of Everton scout Bob Pendleton in that famous 99 goal season and was promptly recruited. As a boyhood Everton fan Rooney did not hesitate to join and immediately began tearing it up for the Toffies U9’s team.
Rooney even caught the eye of Manchester United’s scouts at a young age. When United played Everton in an U9’s match, United’s then youth academy manager, Paul McGuinness, recalled a standout performance capped with goal scored from a bicycle kick by Rooney.
A goal from bicycle kick scored by a nine-year-old! I have no words, and neither did McGuinness.
Rooney’s love of football was transforming into an obsession, one that would go on to dominate his life. This next story from Wayne’s youth is a good example of how that obsession could be as detrimental as is it could be beneficial.
A Short Temper and an Eye for Goal
There is no real consensus as to what age Rooney was when this story took place, but the belief is that it happened when Wayne was around the age of nine or ten.
While at school, Rooney was in science class and wouldn’t stop fidgeting with his football during a lecture. The instructor obviously trying to mediate the disruption Wazza was causing, decided to confiscate the ball after several failed warnings.
Rooney, in his petulant rage had it in his head that if he couldn’t kick a ball, he needed to kick something. So, he decided to take his frustration out on the wall in the classroom. He kicked the wall next to him so hard that he punched a hole through the sheet rock.
He was given a three-day suspension for his trouble. After which he returned to class but was forbidden from bringing a ball into the classroom.
Breaking into First Team Football
In the 95/96 season Wazza scored 114 goals for the Everton U10/11’s and by the age of 15 he was already playing with the U19 team. In 2002 he scored eight goals in eight games in the FA Youth Cup for Everton on his way to an FA Youth Cup Final.
The following season he was immediately drafted into the Everton first team making his professional debut as a 16-year-old. On that day he scored twice against Wrexam in the league cup, setting a record at the time as the youngest goal scorer in Everton’s history.
Just before his 17th birthday he scored again against Arsenal in the Premier League. His first senior Premier League goal. This not only made him the youngest goal scorer in Premier League history but also ended Arsenal’s 30 match unbeaten run.
Thierry Henry, who played against Wayne on that day, remarked after the game “you look at him, and knew he wanted to destroy everything that was in front of him.” This would only be the tip of the iceberg.
WAYNE ROONEY SIGNS FOR MANCHESTER
Rooney ended his debut season with eight goals in 37 games for Everton. Mainly featuring as a substitute. Hardly impressive until you watch the highlights of those goals.
On 30, August 2004 Wayne Rooney rejected a new contract offer from Everton that would have made him the highest paid player in football history. He also rejected a better deal to move to Chelsea. And yet a more lucrative offer of a one-year deal with Newcastle to then sold on to Manchester United after one season.
Instead, he chose to follow his heart and join Manchester United immediately. The deal would be potentially worth £27 million. Setting yet another record as the most expensive player of all time under the age of 20. Little did anyone know, except for maybe Sir Alex, that Rooney would become United’s greatest ever goal scorer.
“Respect Man! Respect!” – Jose Mourhino
It is impossible, at this point, to go on talking about the man that Wayne Rooney would become without acknowledging some context. I mean to say that Wazza was a once in a generation player. At his peak he may very well have been the best player in the world. He certainly thought so…and so did I.
Had it not been for a series of injuries and Sir Alex’s need to utilize Rooney’s versatility he may well have been in the same conversation as Messi and Ronaldo as a GOAT.
This is the context we must observe as we dive into some of the antics and life choices Rooney made that may sully our view of him as a man and lead us to lose respect for the footballer.
Respect where respect is due.
Wayne Rooney was the last of an old guard of gritty undefeatable footballers that will simply never exist again. He represents the crowning end of a kind of footballing mentality that is slowly being squeezed out of the present-day footballer and being replaced with a blissful sense of mediocrity.
But I digress. Back to Wayne Rooney.
The World was at His Feet
At the start of the 04/05 season, the whole footballing world knew the name Wayne Rooney. He lit up the international stage before being injured at Euro 04 for England. He also announced himself to Manchester United fans by scoring a spectacular hat trick on his debut for the club against Fenerbahce in the Champions League.
However, during the 04/05 season Wayne was also forced to begin managing his disciplinary issues.
He was a short-tempered teenager, that was the raw unfiltered article of the great footballer to come. The next step in his career was, with the help of Sir Alex and his wife Coleen, to harness that aggression. To learn to channel it into the opposition and to learn how to play team football.
Part two of ‘The tale of Wazza’ will dive deeper into the Wayne’s time at Manchester United. Stay tuned to find out how he developed into one of the most dominant footballers of all time.