Wayne Rooney: 100 caps and countless images

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.

England substitute Wayne Rooney warming up before his debut.

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.

Wayne Rooney steps onto the Upton Park pitch to make his England debut as a half time substitute.

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.

Wayne Rooney warming up.

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.

England number nine Wayne Rooney before his first start for the national team.

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.

Chris Lobina Wayne Rooney outpaces the Turkish defence.

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.

Wayne Rooney leaves Tugay trailing in his wake.

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.”

Chris Lobina Wayne Rooney holds off a challenge from Okan.

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.

Bixente Lizarazu hurdles over the tackle of Wayne Rooney.

Wayne Rooney heads home England's opening goal.

Wayne Rooney celebrates in front of the England fans.

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.

Mark Pain Wayne Rooney beats Fernando Muslera and scores his first ever World Cup goal.

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.

Wayne Rooney mouths a response to the booing fans via a television camera.

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.

Wayne Rooney is surrounded by 3 USA players.

Wayne Rooney appeals after being fouled.

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.

A young Wayne Rooney fan celebrates the goal scored by his hero.

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.

The name of Wayne Rooney on the paving outside Wembley Stadium.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic World Cup pictures and images from across the world of sport. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.


Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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