Friday, June 5, 2009
Some say he's the most talented player in the all the land; others say he's inconsistent, petulant and ugly. And the truth is that these two statements are both quite near the mark where Wayne Rooney is concerned.
The Scouse striker first broke onto the scene with his boyhood club, Everton, as a somewhat pudgy-looking teenager in 2002. In October that year, he marked himself as one to watch by netting against Arsenal to become the Premier League's youngest-ever scorer. He became England's youngest-ever player five months later, and by the end of the season he had established himself as arguably Britain's top sporting prospect.
A year further on, his exquisite skills, passion, work-ethic and eye for the majestic had made him one of the most recognisable talents in world football.
The summer of 2004 was a watershed for Rooney. Not only did he star for the Three Lions at the European Championship in Portugal, earning a place in the team of the tournament by scoring four goals to help Sven-Goran Eriksson's side to the quarter-finals (where they fell to the hosts on penalties); but his domestic situation also took quite a significant - and pricey - turn.
By the end of August, after rejecting a new contract offer from the Toffees and becoming the subject of a lengthy bidding war, the Croxteth native signed for Manchester United in a deal worth over £25 million. Thus, he claimed another record, becoming the most expensive teenage transfer in the world.
As you can see, many a milestone was reached by the time Rooney arrived at Old Trafford. Since then, the mantelpiece - or mantelpieces, perhaps - of his £4.25 million Prestbury mansion has - or have - been adorned with trinket upon trinket.
In his first season with the Red Devils, he claimed both the PFA and FIFPro Young Player of the Year awards. The season after, he defended his PFA crown, booked a spot in the Team of the Year and claimed the Sir Matt Busby trophy as the United fans' player of the season. He also won his first trophy, the League Cup.
The team titles have kept on coming. 'Roo' has won two consecutive Premier Leagues (and is presently chasing a third), with a Community Shield and a Club World Cup thrown in, capped off by the highlight of his career to date: the 2008 UEFA Champions League crown, won on penalties against Chelsea in Moscow.
And yet, despite all the trophies and fame and fortune, a debate has sprung up in the past year or so as to just how good Rooney has been since leaving Goodison Park. Some feel that he has failed to deliver anything like the quality expected of a player who was supposed to be the best in the world by now - a title instead being battled out between his one of his club-mates and a certain little Argentine from Barcelona.
The stats make interesting reading. Since joining United, the 23-year-old has scored 97 goals in 230 games - excellent in anyone's terms. Nevertheless, people point to his middling season-by-season totals in the league and his knack for lengthy goalless streaks, and they timidly suggest that perhaps he is an underachiever.
In some ways, the appointment of Fabio Capello as England boss has reminded everyone just how good Rooney is. For the Italian tactician has essentially set about building his system around the young forward, with he and Steven Gerrard building a superb understanding as they interchange between the central and wide positions, doubling England's creative threat in the process.
The point is, Rooney remains England's great white hope. He has been exceptional in the Three Lions' perfect start to 2010 World Cup qualifying. And with 20 goals notched up to date at club level, he is - and will continue to be - an indispensable component of the Man United machine, no matter where on the pitch he plays.
Football League Cup (2005-06)
Premier League (2006-07, 2007-08)
FA Community Shield (2007)
UEFA Champions League (2007-08)
FIFA Club World Cup (2008)
BBC Sports Young Personality of the Year (2002)
UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament (2004)
FIFPro World Young Player of the Year (2004–05)
PFA Young Player of the Year (2004–05, 2005–06)
PFA Team of the Year (2005–06)
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (2005–06)
Premier League Player of the Month (February 2005, December 2005, March 2006, November 2007)
FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball (2008)