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Premier League Hall of Fame: Wayne Rooney

Manchester United's record goalscorer Wayne Rooney was one of two players to be inducted into the Premier League's Hall of Fame as part of its class of 2022.

Wayne Rooney Profile:

NameWayne Rooney
Date of Birth24/10/1985
Place of BirthLiverpool, England
Premier League club(s)Everton, Manchester United
Premier League appearances491
Premier League goals208
Premier League assists102
Premier League titles5
PFA Players' Player of the Year awards1

Remember the name

On 19th October 2002, we were told to remember the name: Wayne Rooney

A still-16-year-old Rooney had come off the bench to down an Arsenal side who were not only the reigning champions but were unbeaten in their last 30 matches.

Of course, Everton fans had known for some time who Wayne Rooney was.

The previous season, Everton made the FA Youth Cup final, and were carried there by Rooney. Rooney scored seven in five games en route to the final, and while he’d score one in the first leg, the 4-1 deficit was too much to overturn, with Aston Villa running our 4-2 winners on aggregate.

A disappointment, but Rooney had much bigger things on his horizon.

His Premier League debut would come on the opening day of the following season. Rooney wasn’t overawed by occasions or big names; if anything, he sought out the big names as if he had a point to prove. Teddy Sheringham was the first to receive a clatter from the 16-year-old on his senior debut, with Rooney making an assist as Everton drew 2-2 with Tottenham.

If Everton didn’t have the ball, Rooney would fly into opponents. If Everton did have the ball, he’d find space to receive a pass and either try and take someone on or find a blue shirt. 

There was a wonderful simplicity – innocence, even – to how Rooney played football; it’s well documented that Rooney would finish a Premier League game and then take to the streets to play with his old mates straight after. Football was a love for Rooney, and he just wanted to play. Rooney wasn’t one for intrinsic tactical instruction, but he had the natural ability to make the game look easy, even at such a tender age.

There was no settling into life as a professional footballer for Rooney; he just played the game the only way he knew how; luckily, he was often better than the other 21 players he shared a pitch with.

Rooney had made three starts in his fledgling career, but he’d start on the bench against Arsenal. In 12 games that season, Arsenal had won 10 and drawn the other two and the champions lined up with the likes of Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole, and Rooney had to wait for his moment 

Rooney later remarked that when walking past the Arsenal team before the game, he couldn’t help but notice the sheer size of them. Rooney just a few months earlier was playing under-18s football but was suddenly thrust into a contest with the champions; giants both literally and metaphorically. 

Not that it would faze Rooney. Nothing seemed to faze Rooney. No matter the opposition, no matter the occasion, Rooney would enter the field to go and do what he loved and what he did best.

The 16-year-old had 10 minutes to try and change the game, looking to make a positive impact however he could, even if that was as simple as ‘boot[ing] someone’ – remember, Rooney was still 16 at the time, but in a few short months he’d gone from watching Match of the Day to starring in it.

A hoofed ball from Thomas Gravesen was plucked out of the air by Rooney. With a couple of touches to get the ball out of his feet, Rooney attempted a speculative curling effort that crashed in off the bar. Everton fans knew the sort of talent they had on their hands with Rooney impressing in pre-season, scoring a hatful of goals. Now, the rest of the country knew.

Rooney would only start three of Everton’s next 16 games, but would start each of the final eight. Now old enough to legally drive a car, Rooney had become a key part of David Moyes’s plans.

Rooney scored six goals in his maiden campaign – a modest tally, but more than respectable when considering his limited game time. 

Rooney saw his minutes increase the following season, having made his England debut the season before, but Everton would labour through the campaign, finishing 17th, with Rooney scoring nine goals.

A youth team coach said that Rooney would go on to be the greatest player in Everton's history. In an ideal world, Everton would’ve been in a position to win trophies and Rooney could spend his career with his boyhood club and fulfil that destiny. As it happened, Everton weren’t in a position to win trophies, and Rooney's destiny lay elsewhere. 

The boy who would be king

The 16-year-old boy had become a man at Euro 2004, and but for a cruel injury in the quarter-final against Portugal, England could well have won the tournament and Rooney would’ve been the focal point. In a team containing the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Michael Owen, it was Rooney who shone brightest.

The big-time was calling. Chelsea and Newcastle had made approach but it was Manchester United who won the race, paying around £27m for the now-18-year-old. Not a huge figure in today’s money, but this was a year after David Beckham had been sold to Real Madrid for £25m. It was a massive sum of money, but in the history of the game, perhaps only Pele was a better footballer at the same age.

Despite his physical stature and growing reputation in the game, there was still a rawness to Rooney, but it wasn’t a rawness he would lose in a hurry. Now plying his trade at the Theatre of Dreams, Rooney maintained his street footballer persona, playing the game the only way he knew how.

But to add to the anticipation, the foot injury sustained at Euro 2004 meant Manchester United fans would have to wait another month for Rooney’s debut. It was well worth waiting for.

A Champions League game against Fenerbahce would see Rooney bag a first-half brace before scoring a free-kick to complete his hat-trick and Old Trafford had a new hero.

Rooney’s first Premier League goal for United came on his 19th birthday, as Arsenal, out to extend their unbeaten record to 50, came to Old Trafford.

But as he ended their 30-game unbeaten run to score his first Everton goal, Rooney did the same for his first United goal. After winning a contentious penalty, Rooney would seal a 2-0 win at the end of a blistering counter attack. Old Trafford was bouncing, and it’s no exaggeration to say Arsenal were never the same team again.

It was a period of transition for United, however. Rooney scored 11 goals and was named PFA Young Player of the Year, but the Red Devils finished a distant 18 points behind champions Chelsea.

Rooney had matured somewhat when the following season came around, recording 25 goal contributions to win PFA Fans’ Player of the Year and be named PFA Young Player of the Year again, but United were still off the pace.

The 2006/07 season was perhaps the best of Rooney. Few players peak at the age of 21, but Rooney might well have. Entering the campaign on the back of a red card against Portugal that led to England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup, much was made of his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portuguese’s role in the sending off, but the pair’s chemistry only seemed to improve. 

After three barren years – an eternity by United’s standards at the time – the Red Devils were in danger of Chelsea joining them at the top of the table, with trips to Manchester City and Chelsea still to come. But Jose Mourinho’s Blues were held at home to Bolton, while United came from 2-0 down to beat Everton – with Rooney of all people putting his side ahead. After a torrid reception, Rooney celebrated in front of the fans who once adored him, kissing his new club’s badge.

United were champions again, but Rooney was harshly overlooked for Team of the Year, despite ranking first in the league for assists (11) as well as combined goals and assists (25).

It was perhaps the last season of Rooney the street footballer. Still only 21, the ever-growing abilities of Ronaldo meant that Rooney – and most of his team-mates – would be in service of the soon-to-be Ballon d’Or winner. 

There was more of a maturity to Rooney’s game, with Ferguson occasionally deploying Rooney out wide to allow Ronaldo to play more centrally. Rooney would sacrifice his own game for the sake of the team, but it helped create arguably the greatest-ever United side. 

United won back-to-back titles and the Champions League, being denied a clear run at the FA Cup after a contentious defeat at home to Portsmouth with only West Brom, Barnsley and Cardiff left in the semi-finals.

Being so young and having achieved so much, it looked like the sky was the limit for Rooney. Still only 22, Rooney had won two Premier Leagues with 71 goals to his name; he’d won the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, the PFA Young Player of the Year twice and had been named in the PFA Team of the Year as well as winning the Golden Boy. And though Rooney’s game evolved over the years, losing some of that free spiritedness, there was plenty more to come.

Having spent much of the 2008/09 season occupying different roles, the departure of Ronaldo that summer meant that Rooney would become United’s primary goal threat. Occupying a central striking role, Rooney cleared 20 goals for the first time in his career and scored in more than half the league games he played in, but an injury suffered against Bayern Munich saw him miss the title decider with Chelsea. 

Losing 2-1 at Old Trafford, Chelsea leapfrogged United at the top of the table, going on to win the league. A season ending in disappointment, there was some personal accolades for Rooney, who again was named PFA Fans’ Player of the Year as well as winning his first and only PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.

Wantaway Wayne

But falling short in the title race would spark a row that would jeopardise Rooney’s career and legacy at Old Trafford, asking to leave the club amid an alleged lack of ambition. The likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were now in their mid-30s, while Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez hadn’t been adequately replaced. In hindsight, there was little to disagree with what Rooney said; but at the time they were still the club to play for in England and it looked like little more than a money-grabbing ploy.

A dramatic U-turn saw Rooney sign a new five-year deal, but, out with injury, it would be a few weeks until Rooney would hear what the Old Trafford faithful made of his comments. 

Coming on as a sub, Rooney was cheered and booed in equal measure and clearly had work to do to get the rest of the United fans back onside. 

It took less than three months.

With the Manchester derby – against a freshly-rich Manchester City – finely poised at 1-1, Rooney would score one of the great Premier League goals. When Nani’s cross was deflected into the sky, Rooney paused and launched himself into the air; legs akimbo, Rooney did well to make proper contact with the ball. As it happened, the ball would nestle in the top corner, past a rooted Joe Hart. 

A goal worthy of winning not just any derby, but any game of football, and three months later, United would win the title again. 

But it wasn’t just a 12th Premier League; it was a 19th English title, overtaking Liverpool, and it was Wayne Rooney – the Evertonian who lent his talents to Manchester United – who scored the decisive penalty to do it.

Rooney had one last title in him in Ferguson’s final season before United’s decade in the wilderness began. And while Rooney’s influence at the club would diminish in his final four years at Old Trafford, a substitute appearance against Stoke saw Rooney finally break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as the club’s greatest ever goalscorer.

With 491 games, 208 goals, 102 assists, countless awards and trophies, unforgettable moments and goals, Wayne Rooney is unquestionably a Premier League legend.

On 19th October 2002, we were told to remember the name: Wayne Rooney

He made it impossible to forget.

Style of play

In his youth, Rooney was an all-action centre-forward. Physically strong with good speed, Rooney could hold up the ball and bring team-mates into play or beat defenders on his own with pace and power. 

As he got older, in part thanks to his good technique, excellent range of passing and high work rate, Rooney would drop deeper into midfield and was deployed there occasionally to help link midfield with attack.

Despite not being the tallest centre forward, he had strong heading ability in part thanks to his good movement in the area, and while Rooney had a deft touch and preferred to the pass the ball into the net, he was more than capable of putting his laces through the ball, scoring a memorable volley against Newcastle, as well as two goals from near the halfway line with Manchester United and Everton.

Capable of taking free-kicks and penalties, Rooney scored from a number of set pieces.

Life after football

After his swansong at Everton, Rooney crossed the Atlantic to spend two years with DC United in MLS before returning to England with Derby County, where he'd become player-manager.

He's since become a full-time manager, managing Derby, DC United and now Birmingham City.

Did you know?

Wayne Rooney ranked in the top 10 for combined goals and assists in 10 consecutive Premier League seasons. For comparison, Alan Shearer was next best with nine (non-consecutive), then Harry Kane with eight (non-consecutive), then Thierry Henry with seven (consecutive).

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