One more flourish or already finished?
Rooney has much to prove as he turns 30 today
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When Wayne Rooney burst onto the international stage at the age of 17 and went on to excel at Euro 2004, the world seemed his oyster.
And, as he turns 30 today, the view of Rooney as a player whose career, though hugely successful, has not quite fulfilled its early promise is being quietly reappraised.
The Manchester United and England captain may no longer be the force of nature of his teens, but the dawn of his fourth decade brings the achievements of his 13-year professional career into sharp focus.
He has won nine major honours, is England's all-time leading scorer and looks set to become United's and, while on the international stage, he has never recaptured the heights of his breakthrough tournament at Euro 2004, few English footballers have dominated the sporting landscape for so long.
"History has already judged him, because when you pick up the record books, there will be the name of Wayne Rooney," David Moyes, Rooney's former manager at Everton and United, told the Daily Mirror recently.
"He's already surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton as England's leading goal-scorer and I'm sure he will go on to do the same at United.
"For Wayne to be breaking records at his age is remarkable - and he's not finished yet."
A recent BBC documentary about Rooney has helped to soften attitudes towards him in Britain.
Renowned for his aggressive on-pitch demeanour, all angry scowls and expletive-strewn outbursts, the Rooney in the film came across as a shy and softly spoken family man.
Viewers saw him chatting with former neighbours on the housing estate in the tough Croxteth district of Liverpool where he grew up and were treated to the surprising admission that the young footballer wooed his future wife Coleen with poetry.
According to former England striker Gary Lineker, whose production company made the film, the public reaction on social media was "overwhelmingly positive".
While attitudes towards Rooney the man appear to be evolving, so too are perceptions of Rooney the footballer.
His emergence with Everton as a raw, preternaturally gifted 16-year-old in 2002 sent England's football media into paroxysms of excitement, while Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described him as "a complete footballer".
Rooney, it was felt, was the most talented player England had produced since Paul Gascoigne and his performances at Euro 2004 in Portugal, where he scored four goals, made the world sit up and take notice.
Since joining United later that year, he has won five Premier League titles, two League Cups, the Champions League and the World Club Cup, scored some of the modern era's great goals, won countless awards, surpassed Charlton as England's leading scorer with 50 goals and needs 14 more to break the former midfielder's United record of 249.
Viewed objectively, it is a staggering list of achievements and with Rooney going into his thirties, those achievements are perhaps belatedly being given their dues.
Though no longer possessed of the explosive power he once had, Rooney is now a wilier footballer and a sharper finisher, while he has taken to captaincy for club and country with a seriousness and sensitivity that has surprised even his managers.
Despite twice coming close to leaving United, in 2010 and 2013, Rooney has become imbued with the relentlessly forward-thinking mindset that characterised the club's success under Alex Ferguson.
It is why, despite his impending milestone, he is still setting his sights on the goals ahead, notably Charlton's United scoring record and a first major trophy with England at next year's European Championship in France.
A retreat into midfield, meanwhile, may yet offer him further longevity.
"I physically feel good and obviously your 30th is a big birthday in anyone's life, but I still feel I am young enough, that I have a lot of years ahead of me," he said this week.
"I have had no major muscle injuries. As players now, we have all the support of the sports science and all the guys to help us in terms of preparation, training and games, so I think it's still a fairly young age."
Roon's scout remembers
TEEN TERROR: Wayne Rooney playing for England in an U-17 game against Brazil in 2001. PHOTO: DARREN WALSH / ACTION IMAGES
Over two decades have passed, but Bob Pendleton remembers his first glimpse of Wayne Rooney like it was yesterday.
On Long Lane playing fields in Aintree, Pendleton was headed for pitch two to collect some unpaid referees' fees from "Big Nev", the coach of Copplehouse Colts.
With £4.50 ($10) worth of change in his pocket, Pendleton chose to hang around and watch the Under-11s in action. It would prove to be the best decision of his career.
For, as well as being the secretary of the Walton and Kirkdale junior league, Pendleton also scouted youngsters for Everton.
Little would he know that he had come across the boy who would go on to become England's greatest goal scorer.
As Pendleton watched on, Rooney found the net. He was two years younger than his teammates, but stood head and shoulders above others on the pitch.
HE'S A BIT SPECIAL
"Copplehouse had done nothing in the first half of the season but, when he signed for them, Jesus, honestly..." Pendleton says before puffing his cheeks out. "Jimmy Greaves passed the ball into the back of the net and so did Wayne.
"The scores would be about 7-0 and, nine times out of 10, he scored four or five of them.
"He got the reputation as being a beast in front of goal.
"There was a vibe going round Liverpool about him. Different lads you knew used to say, 'Have you got Rooney yet, Bob?'."
Once he had seen him in action, there was no way Pendleton would let this nine-year-old boy go anywhere else but Everton.
Rooney had trials at Liverpool, but it did not feel right for the youngster - mainly because he turned up in his Everton kit.
He was an Evertonian through and through, as were his family. His success continued after signing youth forms with the Toffees.
Two approaches from Sir Alex Ferguson were rebuffed and Rooney went on to star in Everton's run to the 2002 FA Youth Cup final.
Then, five days shy of his 17th birthday, Rooney scored his first Everton goal against Arsenal - a fierce drive which cannoned in off the underside of the bar.
As Rooney celebrates his 30th birthday today, pundits seem only too eager to cricitise him.
The common view is that Rooney is past his best. That point is probably a fair one. The man who scored 26 goals in 32 league appearances in the 2010-11 season seems like a distant memory.
But it easy to forget that Rooney has been playing professional football for 14 years.
Another view that Rooney has not fulfilled his potential as a player is not accurate.
He has five Premier League winner's medals, has won the League Cup twice and the Champions League once.
He has also garnered the PFA Player of the Year award, the FWA Player of the Year accolade and has done what Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves could not do - score 50 goals for his country.
It is only a matter of time before he scores the 14 goals required to make him United's greatest marksman.
"You can tell he is a world-class player by what he does in training every day," says United midfielder Jesse Lingard, who joined the club aged seven. "He has got goals and he is captain, he leads the team, he sets a great example and we follow him."
- PA Sport.
1) GOAL OF FIRST TWO DECADES
Wayne Rooney's bicycle-kick against Manchester City in 2011 was voted the best of the Premier League's first 20 seasons. It also helped the striker win the Goal of the Season award on the BBC's Match of the Day for a third time.
2) TOFFEE BOY
Rooney joined Everton, the club he supported as a boy, at the age of nine after being spotted by a Toffees' scout playing for Copplehouse Boys' Club. He scored 99 goals in his final season.
3) CLUB MASCOT
He was Everton's mascot for the Merseyside Derby as a 10-year-old and chipped goalkeeper Neville Southall in the warm-up.
4) IRISH ROOTS
Rooney was eligible to represent the Republic of Ireland through his grandmother, but turned down an approach aged 16.
5) EURO 2004 RECORD
Rooney held the record for being the youngest goalscorer in European Championship history for four days. He scored twice against Switzerland at Euro 2004, only for Swiss midfielder Johan Vonlanthen to usurp him in the next game.
The striker's younger brother John is also a professional footballer. Having spent time at Macclesfield, Barnsley, Bury and in Major League Soccer, the 24-year-old is now with Chester in the Vanarama National League.
7) ROON v MOYES
Rooney was sued for libel in 2006 by former Everton manager David Moyes following claims in the striker's autobiography about his departure from the Toffees. The case was settled out of court and Rooney apologised to Moyes.
- PA Sport.
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