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Wayne Rooney – the greatest English player of his generation

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As Wayne Rooney moves into full-time management with Derby County, the career of playing England’s greatest talent of his generation comes to an end.

Rooney’s transition to coaching and management is not unexpected. He joined Derby specifically as a player-coach upon his return to England in January 2020 and talks about his ambition to become manager for several years. He was working for his coach badges as early as 2016 while still playing for Manchester United and only 30 years old.

He was someone born to be in football.

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Rooney took home the prize in glorious club career | Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

Rooney made his breakthrough at Everton at just 16 and quickly scored one of the all-time iconic Premier League goals against defending champions Arsenal in 2002.

He was a regular at the Toffees’ first team at 17 and ordered a record teenage honorarium worth almost £ 30million when he moved to Manchester United at 18 in 2004.

It was Rooney’s performance for England at Euro 2004 that summer that sealed Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to have him. The prodigy has scored four times and his injury early in the quarterfinal against Portugal, with England leading, has always been seen as a huge moment.

Rooney netted a hat-trick on his Champions League debut for United against Fenerbahce and scored 17 goals in his debut season. He was part of a new and exciting young squad, built around the partnership between him and Cristiano Ronaldo which brought the club’s most concentrated period of success at a time when domestic and European competition was fiercer than ever.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates ...
Rooney was a key part of an exceptional Man Utd squad | PAUL ELLIS / Getty Images

Rooney won the first of five career Premier League titles in 2006/07, scoring over 20 goals in a single season for the first time. The following year, he took the number ten jersey of which it would soon become synonymous and added another national title and a Champions League trophy.

With Carlos Tevez also having joined the fold for 2007/08, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez have become revered as one of the all-time great attacking lines of English football.

Another Premier League title and a Champions League final followed, with United losing to Barcelona in Rome. Ronaldo then left and Rooney took on the lead role in the goal threat, showcasing a different side of his game as an offside forward. He secured 34 competitions in all competitions in 2009/10 in his first season after Ronaldo left Real Madrid.

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Rooney proved himself as a goalscorer after Cristiano Ronaldo left | ANDREW YATES / Getty Images

Rooney’s time at Old Trafford was not without controversy. He has asked to leave United at least once, most famous in 2010 when he questioned the club’s ambition. But he signed a new contract and this season brought his most famous goal – a winning header against Manchester City – and a record 19th league title for the club as a whole.

Again tasked with scoring goals, Rooney got 34 more in 2011/12. The following season he was back to his usual deeper role, playing the role of supplier for new frontman Robin van Persie as United claimed a 20th league title, the fifth of Rooney’s career. It was his sweep pass that Van Persie stole at home in the deciding game against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

An FA Cup, League Cups, Club World Cup and Europa League completed a comprehensive series of trophies.

As the club struggled in a changing environment after Ferguson’s retirement, Rooney inherited the captain’s post in 2014. By this point he was starting to play a little less often and steadily sinking deeper into the middle. field to fill in the gaps and add creativity to a poorly recruited team.

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Rooney ended his career as Man Utd’s top scorer | OLI SCARFF / Getty Images

Rooney’s consistency was remarkable. For 12 consecutive years as a United player, he has scored at least 14 goals in all competitions each season – it was not until his 13th and last that he fell below 10. As a result, in 2017 , he had broken Sir Bobby Charlton’s scoring record, scoring his 250th in a game at Stoke and extending it to 253 by the time he left a few months later.

Rooney had already broken Charlton’s England record in 2015, becoming the first player to score 50 senior international goals for the Three Lions.

The player was still capable of making an impact when he returned to the Everton childhood club in 2017 and was a revelation for 18 months in MLS with DC United. He single-handedly resurrected the club’s 2018 season, pushing it from the bottom of the standings to the playoffs.

What makes him the best English player of his generation compared to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard? It’s easy, he won more.

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Rooney has scored 53 goals in 120 England matches | Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Rooney has often been heavily criticized for his underperformance in an English shirt. But he lacked physical form at the World Cup in 2006 after coming back from a broken foot and carrying the weight of a waiting nation on his shoulders after his exploits in 2004.

Lampard, Gerrard and others have also been disappointed for England on numerous occasions during this time, so Rooney is far from the only one breaking the promise of the Golden Generation.

When you measure Rooney’s career, consider that he has played 676 games at the highest level for Everton and Manchester United and over 760 at club level in total. He has scored 366 career goals for club and country and is the all-time leading scorer for England’s most famous and revered club and the national team, as well as the most capped outfield player from England.

He is one of only two players in Premier League history to have scored more than 200 goals in the competition and won the best goal in the Premier League’s 20th anniversary ceremony. He was also a winner of the PFA and FWA awards and in his heyday was truly world class.

Happy retirement, Wazza.

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