Mark Leech looks back on the England career of Wayne Rooney, starting with his debut against Australia at Upton Park…
Australia probably had five or six subs yet on the A4 paper, the England substitutes went right the way down the bottom of the page. It was that Sven era in which he got criticised for that.
Rooney was among them. Looking back on the pictures now the lad looks like a competition winner in his too-big-for-him puffer jacket. He came on, it was 2-0 to Australia but he couldn’t turn. The crowd were livid because of all the substitutions.
But there was no announcement at half-time which seems odd now for a player of his standing. He just came out of the tunnel, couldn’t wait and just legged it onto the pitch. I don’t know if you’re meant to hold the board up and do it officially but he just bombed out in the No. 23 shirt.
I’m not going to say now, “oh, I could see what a talent he was at this level.” He got kicked around by Craig Moore and some tough old Aussie guys at the back. There was nothing to report from Rooney really. That was a very understated debut.
Fast forward to April 2003 (his debut came in February) and everything had changed. The rumours circulated around Rooney: “Will he start? Will he start?” But that unfortunately wasn’t the big story that day. It must have just been after the Leeds fans had been stabbed in Istanbul, so England were playing Turkey at Sunderland.
We thought we’d get in early, but because of traffic we only got into town at half five, and it had all gone off all afternoon. I didn’t have my head in the football, but when we got into the stadium the players were out on the pitch. I got in and saw Rooney.
He looked so relaxed, so casual, larking around and I though, “Ah, he’s on the bench.” Nobody would be like that if they were being given the England No. 9 shirt for the first time, or so I thought.
He was one of the last ones still out there chatting, and Brian Kidd, Sven’s assistant, came out shouting, “Where is he? Where is he? Wayne! Get in here!” He turned around and looked back at him like, “who me?” and ran back in. It was just like, “oh right, I’m playing as No. 9 for England tonight.” There were no nerves or anything. He just took to it. It was as if he was thinking to himself, “about time too.”
I found one picture where he’s being held by a Turkish defender, and there’s no anger, no argument, no agro. He just looked as calm as anything. “Just give me the ball.” He just fitted in. I wouldn’t say, “oh what a game he had!” or that he was set to win 100 caps, but it was just that moment before the game; how calm he looked. That’s probably what separates him from mortals.
Euro 2004 was his first tournament and arguably his best one. Let’s hope in 2016 he’s got something else to show us though. In that experience he seemed to show at Sunderland, with a defender climbing all over him, he didn’t seem to show three years later in Germany at the 2006 World Cup. I don’t know what happened along the way.
And after his performance for England when he scored that cracking goal at the Maracana this summer you thought that would be his World Cup, but it just didn’t happen for him in Brazil. In 2008, we didn’t make it.
In 2010, coming off the pitch in Cape Town with a TV camera in his face after a 0-0 against Algeria; you’re thinking that it’s just not been right for him in the major tournaments. It’s a good England career but that’s all you can say.
In terms of other centurions, if you put him against the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton he’s nowhere near, but up against the like of David Beckham and Ashley Cole, I’d put him above them.
Back in 2004, he celebrated everything like he was a kid. It was very picture-esque for everyone then. He was flying around overhead-kicking and making big headers against Switzerland; a real all-action guy.
People turn around and say the sending off against Portugal would be a big image but that was a nearly picture for me. A steward walked across just as he was kicking a bucket on the sidelines. Beckham went out to try and calm him down and Gary Lewin was hanging onto him while he was lashing out. He looked ready to go there.
Unfortunately, my pictures of him shouting down the TV camera at 2010 haven’t been too positive. I’d look more for those corner kick pictures when he’s wrestling with a defender, but he knows that’s part of the game. He’s not been explosive. He’s not Gazza. He’s not that edgy. People wish him to be that genius but has he calmed down and lost something along the way? If he played nine great games and then sat three of them out suspended, he’d be more of a hero.
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