The street footballer who captained England

Potential: An 18-year-old Wayne Rooney marks his goal for England against Denmark in 2003. ©PA

Wayne Rooney is England’s top footballer of the last ten years. As his era draws to an end and calls mount for him to be dropped by England and Manchester United, how will he be remembered?

One Saturday in October 2002 a 16-year-old lad returned to his home in Croxteth, a tough, working-class area of Liverpool. He had just played in a football match. The first thing he did was to go out to the garages behind his house, meet up with some friends, and play even more football.

That boy was Wayne Rooney, and just hours earlier he had scored the winner for his boyhood club, Everton, against Arsenal, becoming the premier league’s youngest ever goalscorer. It was a sublime goal: Rooney instantly controlled a long pass, and took a couple of touches before thundering the ball from 25 yards past David Seaman, the England goalkeeper.

Rooney was a prodigy and a record-breaker. By the age of 18 he had become the English national team’s youngest ever goalscorer; his £25m transfer to Manchester United made him the most expensive teenager of all time. His intensity, skill and unpredictability led some to call him ‘Britain’s last great street footballer’.

Yet what of that career which promised so much? Has he, 14 years after breaking through, fulfilled his potential?

Since that goal against Arsenal, he has scored another 315 more for Everton, Manchester United and England. He has won every major club competition. He captains club and country.

So at first glance the answer is yes. But for some years now there has been a growing sense that Rooney has been drifting. Only this week he was dropped for England’s qualifier in Slovenia. His club manager, Jose Mourinho, has also left him out of some recent matches.

It is inevitable that he is no longer the carefree, explosive performer of his youth. But recent displays have been undeniably poor. In The Times Henry Winter called him ‘yesterday’s man’, believing that England should move on without him.

As Rooney moves into the autumn of his career, the footballing world is already starting to judge his career. Does he stand with Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Paul Gascoigne and others as a true great of English football?

On the Wayne

Of course Rooney must be counted among those legends, say some. It is a mark of how absurdly demanding the English public is, that people could write his career off as a failure. He has never been the perfect footballer but he has scored iconic goals, won countless trophies and inspired thousands of children to take on his fearless, aggressive approach to the sport. That makes him a ‘great’ player.

And yet there is still a feeling of disappointment. Rooney has never found himself a perfect position and his performances in tournaments for England have often been poor. He has never fulfilled the potential talent he showed as a street footballer in Liverpool. A good player; not a great one.

You Decide

  1. Wayne Rooney: good or great?
  2. ‘If Rooney had been born into a wealthy family in a rich area he would never have been as good at football.’ Do you agree?


  1. Write an article about Rooney’s difficulties in the style of a tabloid newspaper.
  2. Write down three pieces of advice you would give Rooney, or anyone struggling in their job.

Some People Say...

“Comparing people from different eras is a waste of time.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not really interested in football. Does this matter?
Rooney is an interesting study in how people grow up. From being a talented, hot-headed youngster he has become a responsible, mature performer. And yet some think that growing up has hindered his wild, unpredictable spirit. That is a story that could be applied to many people, not just sportsmen.
If England do give up on Rooney, is there anyone to take his place?
The talent available to the England manager simply is not what it was ten or fifteen years ago. That is a major argument of those who favour persevering with Rooney. However, England have some good young strikers to replace him, such as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, as well as Dele Alli in attacking midfield, where Rooney has often played.

Word Watch

An area in the north-east of Liverpool infamous for gang violence. It came to prominence in 2007 when an 11-year-old called Rhys Jones was caught in the middle of the violence and shot dead. Rooney’s family still live in the area, as did the girl he married, Colleen.
£25m transfer to Manchester United
Having rejected a bid from Newcastle, Everton sold Rooney to Manchester United in the summer of 2004.
Every major club competition
He has won the Premier League five times, the FA Cup once, the League Cup twice and the Champions League once. He was also named PFA Player of the Year in 2010.
England’s qualifier in Slovenia
Rooney’s absence did not exactly help England as they put in a disappointing performance in a 0-0 draw.


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