Wayne Rooney: The Wonder Kid

Wayne Mark Rooney was born in Fazakerley Hospital in October 1985, when Everton were the champions of England. Wayne Snr was an often unemployed labourer, mother Jeanette worked as a dinner lady in her son’s De La Salle school.

Son Wayne’s primary school, St Swithin’s, did not play organized football, so his first ‘proper’ match came as a seven-year-old, for the Western Approaches under 11 team. Rooney went on as a sub for his debut, and scored. It was the beginning of a Rooney pattern: younger and better than the rest.

Wayne Snr, being a season-ticket holder at Goodison Park, must have held his breath when his first-born was soon offered a trial by Liverpool before Everton. Fortunately for both Waynes, Everton scout Bob Pendleton followed quickly.

Rooney was then playing for a team called Copplehouse. He was shortly in Everton’s centre of excellence and Rooney’s name was quickly going into the notebooks of men across the country who know about these things.

Paul McGuinness, now Manchester United’s academy manager, recalled his first sighting.

‘Our under nines played Everton’s boys and they absolutely hammered us,’ he said. ‘Rooney scored a few (six), but there was one that stood out.

'It was basically the classic overhead kick, the perfect bicycle kick, which for a kid of eight or nine years old was really something special.’

That was the 1995-96 season, when Rooney scored 114 goals in 29 games for Everton’s under 10s and 11s. A few months later, in November 1996, shortly after Rooney’s 11th birthday, he was Everton’s mascot for the derby game against Liverpool at Anfield. In the warm-up Rooney chipped the ball over an unimpressed Neville Southall.

Gary Speed has good reason to cherish that game. He scored the Everton equaliser in front of the Kop. What Speed also remembered was thinking: ‘Mmm, the mascot’s not bad.’

All at Goodison knew that an exceptional talent was on his way. So did others — Everton had to fight off interest from Wolves, Liverpool and Tottenham — but they knew that until Rooney was 17 they could not sign him as a professional.

There was relief then when two months after his 16th birthday, in 2001, Rooney signed a pre-contract. The significance can be seen in the venue for this event: Goodison Park, in front of 38,000, the day Everton faced Derby in a Premier League match.

Presumably one of Everton’s substitutes will have taken wistful notice: Paul Gascoigne. Everton won but there was to be only one more league victory in the next four months. Manager Walter Smith was replaced by Moyes.

Under Moyes the 16-year-old prodigy began to travel with the first team. And on the opening August day of a momentous 2002-03 season, Rooney was named in the Everton first XI. He had been given the squad number of a released player — No 18, Gascoigne. There was no dream debut goal but Rooney was still delighted.

Finding himself replacing or being replaced by Niclas Alexandersson, there was no Rooney goal until the League Cup in October. That night Everton went to Wrexham, who had Sir Alex Ferguson’s son, Darren, in their team. Rooney came on for Tomasz Radzinski and scored twice.

It was the start of Rooney’s month of arrival. Five days before his 17th birthday, on October 19, with Arsenal the visitors, the score 1-1 and the Gunners about to extend their unbeaten league run to 31 games, Rooney replaced Radzinski.

There were 10 minutes left. Arsenal were the champions, accustomed to seeing games out. In the 90th minute Thomas Gravesen clumped the ball forward. As it fell, it did so on to the soft toes of a 16-year-old most of the nation had not heard of. In the next two seconds that changed.

Rooney brought the ball down 30 yards from goal, swiveled, looked up and drilled an arcing shot past the gaze of Arsenal’s centre halves, Sol Campbell and Pascal Cygan. Behind them, the ball soared over England goalkeeper David Seaman.

Cygan, 36, and now with Cartagena in Spain, remembers: ‘Before the game, Arsene Wenger told us about how dangerous Rooney was.’

Wenger, as they say, knew. Afterwards he said: ‘Losing our record is a big disappointment, but at least we lost to a special goal from a special talent. He is the biggest English talent I’ve seen since I took over at Highbury.’

The 16-year-old had invaded the nation’s living rooms. He has been part of the furniture ever since.

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