Part of me always reserved hope that Wayne Rooney would retire as a Manchester United player. Alas, the day I never wanted to arrive has arrived after all.
It has been confirmed that Rooney has left Manchester United to return to Everton, the club he grew up supporting – the same club that he moved from when he came to Old Trafford as a teenager in 2004.
Rooney was 18 years old when he swapped Merseyside blue for Manchester red; I was just eight.
Slow to latch on to football as a passion and a hobby, I wasn’t all that bothered about the sport until Rooney exploded onto the scene. With his promising start to his career, he caught my attention more so than any other player had before – and when he moved to United, he really consolidated my choice of club.
Having cheered him on individually perhaps more than the team as a whole at Euro 2004, I was indescribably excited to see him playing at Old Trafford – It didn’t take me long to get his name on the back of the new kit and pelt footballs around the garden shouting his name every time I had a pot shot at something I’d later get into trouble for breaking (usually the fence, and once the garage window).
First came his debut – that hat-trick against Fenerbahce is simply unforgettable, and really set the tone for his United career. Bullish, confident and clinical, Rooney had all the hallmarks of a player who’d go on to score bags and bags of goals, break records, and win trophies.
I’m not having any of the ‘he didn’t fulfill his potential’ rubbish. Rooney is the top scorer of all-time at Manchester United, as well as boasting the same achievement in an England shirt; records for which the requirement was to out-score the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton.
He also became captain for club and country, and won everything that was put in front of him with Manchester United, from five Premier League titles to the Champions League and FA Cup.
Anyway, back to the Rooney moments that really stood out to me…
Next was his brace in the 2006 League Cup final, which saw him win his first trophy with the club, and United’s second that my memory allows for (after the FA Cup in 2004).
The next most significant Rooney moment, to me, was when he returned from injury during the World Cup in 2006.
England were frustrated against Trinidad and Tobago, and me and my mate had lost interest in the game. Being just 10, we weren’t too bothered about watching a Sven-Goran Eriksson side piss around with the ball – so we went off to play football in the garden, and probably did a better job of it than the Three Lions were managing.
We soon came steaming back into the house though, when we heard the commentator state that Rooney was warming up – I literally cried with joy seeing my favourite player coming back from the injury that should have kept him out of the tournament all together.
His hat-trick against Bolton during the following season was fantastic – and many United fans favour that game as one of his best – but for me, one of his absolute standout career moments was his brace against AC Milan in the first-leg of the 2007 Champions League final – although Milan ultimately went on to win the tie and the competition, Rooney’s last minute winner in that first leg will always be one of the most-celebrated goals my poor family had to witness. What a moment.
Although it was incredible to see Wayne be part of the United side who won the double in 2008, that Champions League final against Chelsea stands out more to me as a game I remember for Edwin van der Sar and Ronaldo, for understandable reasons.
His four-goal performance against Hull was a real joy to watch, but perhaps my favourite moment of his didn’t come until a year later, in 2011.
Whilst many United fans will cite his volley against Newcastle (a strike that epitomised his style) or his wondrous bicycle kick against Manchester City as their favourite goals, mine is his final strike of the 2010-11 season.
That goal, of course, came against Barcelona in the Champions League final. United may have gone on to lose their second European final in three years that night, but I’ll never forget the pure elation when Rooney equalised in that game. The move was vintage Rooney, and as I write this I can see it playing over and over again in my head. Rooney picked the ball up just past half-way and burst a good 15-20 yards before exchanging passes with Ryan Giggs. That one-two with Giggs was rushed, but it was the Welshman’s good movement that made the goal, drawing a big space in the Barcelona defence – and of course, Rooney’s finish was emphatic, and left Victor Valdes with absolutely no chance.
The 8-2 victory over Arsenal was another highlight, with Rooney’s three goals a real joy, but as with the 2008 Champions League final, I generally associate that game with other players; namely Ashley Young and Nani this time.
His brace against City away from home in 2012-13 is another Rooney performance that sticks with me, as it came in that period when every tackle, every interception, every goal against the noisy neighbours just felt that little bit better, as the arrival of the likes of Aguero had really spiced the rivalry back up.
When David Moyes insisted upon his arrival at United in 2013 that Rooney would not be leaving the club, I was relieved. Other United fans might tell you otherwise, but I thought he still had a lot to offer the club, especially in terms of experience and leadership in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘moving upstairs’.
Two goals against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League signalled that he was still kicking and his emphatic volley against Hull in the same season was a delight to watch.
One of my most treasured Rooney memories is being in the Stretford End when he scored against Spurs and produced his ‘knockout’ celebration – we couldn’t see too much of what was going on at the other end of the stadium, but getting into the concourse at half-time was fantastic, everyone singing Wayne’s praises once more and enjoying a good laugh at a well-humoured celebration. That 10 minutes inside at half time resonates with me as I loved hearing the praise for Rooney flying around, especially as he often was/is a scapegoat if things didn’t/don’t go to plan.
It did take me longer than most to accept that Rooney’s legs had gone to an extent, and that he was approaching a more wound-down period in his career, and that wasn’t helped by his hat-trick against Club Brugge in 2015, which saw the eight-year-old in me jumping up around like a mad man and insisting that he was the best player in the world once more!
His remarkable late free-kick against Stoke to break the record meant so much to me. Having seen Wayne win the FA Cup, I felt that as a massive Rooney fan, I was one step closer to some closure – if he had left the club without that trophy or the goal record, I wouldn’t be so accepting of the fact that he has to stop playing for United at some point.
Although I will always maintain that the Europa League trophy is one that doesn’t hold enough stature to be seen as a necessary accolade for a player, it was a beautiful moment when he lifted that trophy. I think I knew at that moment that it would be the last time I’d watch my favourite player of all time lift a trophy for my club – it signalled the end of the Rooney era, as by that point it was already looking like he’d be leaving this summer.
It’s very poignant that he ended his United career with a trophy – I take great pride in saying that he’s won the lot.
Wayne Mark Rooney is my hero – as a kid I spent silly amounts of my mum’s money on shirts with his name and number printed on the back, and that didn’t stop once it was my own money instead!
The excited little kid inside me isn’t ready to see him leave the club, and the adult isn’t either – but all good things must come to an end, and in terms of my love for football, Rooney is the best of those good things.
Like countless others, I eat, sleep and breathe football – and in my case, that’s almost entirely down to Rooney – so thank you Wayne.