The forward hung up his boots for the country last night after appearing in the 120th time for the Three Lions.
When Javier Hernandez was tripped in the Blackburn Rovers penalty box on a hot English afternoon in May 2011, I, like countless other Manchester United fans across the globe held my breath. For a few seconds, nothing else mattered as players from both sides gathered in front of the referee, hoping to influence the decision.
The decision went against The Riversiders and Wayne Rooney stepped up to take the penalty. It was possibly, the most important penalty in the history of the Red Devils.
They had been plugging away the entire game in search of a goal. It was a typical United performance in the latter part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s era, one that was marked by dogged determination instead of flawless, flowing football. Brett Emerton had handed the home side the lead at Ewood Park, but the foul on the “Little Pea” had given a lifeline to the travelling United fans. A goal would give them a point that would hand them the 19th Premier League title – an unmatched achievement in the history of English football. Rooney did not disappoint.
He kept his nerve, slotted home the spot-kick and sent the 650m United fans across the world, myself included, into a state of frenzy. If I had to pick a moment that would best sum up Rooney, it would be this- his ability to deliver when everyone around him was faltering. Even when he failed to play particularly well, which would happen quite often post Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, he would always contribute. Always.
A true #MUFC legend.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 28, 2018
The Englishman was signed by Ferguson in 2004 from David Moyes’ Everton. United were struggling to find a new set of players following the decline of the treble-winning “Class of 92,” and the 18-year old was Ferguson’s best bet.
Back then, he was the game’s most expensive teenager and he made his Old Trafford bow in spectacular fashion — by scoring a hat-trick against Fenerbache in a Champions League group stage game. The world stood up and took notice; a new champion had arrived at the Theatre of Dreams.
545 games and 13 years later, he found himself in a similar scenario at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke City were leading 1-0 and threatened to end United’s unbeaten run under Jose Mourinho. Having procured a free-kick on the right side of the Potters’ penalty box, Rooney stepped up to take it. With another moment of history weighing on him, he dispatched the ball with a swerving and dipping kick that crashed into the back of Lee Grant’s net.
The Wayne Rooney’s legacy
Just like that, the former Merseysider broke United legend Sir Bobby Charlton’s record tally of 249 goals. He was at the summit of a list that included illustrious names like George Best, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Denis Law, to name just a few.
If memories are the measure of a player’s ability, then Rooney would probably be outranked by many. But for those of us who grew up watching a romping United side that featured him alongside Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, he was the one who made those moments happen. Constantly shifting across the frontline, he was instrumental in the English club’s utter dominance and the Champions League triumph in 2008.
With five Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three League Cups, he was equally impressive on the domestic front and can easily be regarded as the face of the club’s success in those years. He was successful even on the international stage although, he didn’t have trophies to show for it: 53 goals in 119 appearances for England, have put him at the top of the scoring charts for the Three Lions as well.
Of course, a career as glittering as that comes with a few pitfalls: Rooney twice irked the Old Trafford faithful by threatening to leave the club in 2010 and 2013. He was also regularly criticized for having lost the “hunger” post Ronaldo’s departure in 2009, with pundits regularly slating him for not reaching the heights that he was supposed to, when he burst onto the scene as a slaloming, angry, fierce teenager, looking for a chance to score every time he had the ball.
None of that will bother his fans though, just like me. He could surely have scored more or won more if he kept on fuelling the fire, but he did something even better, he learnt to adapt. It was this ability of his that helped Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie and Hernandez fit into the team and score plenty of goals. A selfless nature like that is something that is rarely found in the modern game and it is something that has been precious to me for as long as I have watched and played football.
33 years old now, Rooney is finally packing his bags for the riches of Major League Soccer. Having spent the last season with his boyhood club Everton, he is now with DC United, an outfit that last won something of note, when he first stepped onto the hallowed turf of Old Trafford.
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His time in DC has been tremendous. The way he has transformed the team’s attitude towards the league is exceptional. He is seen everywhere on the pitch, taking a free kick, making the last man tackle, providing injury time winning assists and above all, leading from the front.
Thank you for the memories, Wazza!