England mourned on the night of June 24, 2004. Not just because they lost a tense quarterfinal in a tiebreaker to hosts Portugal in the European Championship, but because their latest wunderkind, Wayne Rooney, had limped off the field with a broken metatarsal. The 17-year-old striker had netted four goals in three games, and England believed, still believe, they would have won the Euro but for his tragic injury. Later, the hard-to-please manager Sven-Goran Eriksson coined a moniker soon forgotten: The White Pele. Back in England, he was hailed as the next David Beckham, the child of destiny who could end England’s frantic pursuit of international glory.
But it was as good as it got for Rooney, who has called time on an international career that lasted 13 years. His country-career was largely unfulfilled, as opposed to his rewarding club journey. He won everything club football could offer, though with the country he seemed to be a helpless force in a middling side. He slipped into the sunset of his career neither with the staggering stature of Pele or Charlton nor the adulation of Beckham. He stacked up glorious numbers — displacing Bobby Charlton as England’s highest goalscorer (53) and usurping Beckham as the country’s most capped player (119).
The two numbers themselves are revealing of two understated virtues of his career — longevity and consistency. What they don’t reflect is the heart and grit he showed each time he played.
As age wore on, and with Rooney it seemed to travel swiftly, he was less twinkling foot-work and screaming pace, and more unflinching determination and brooding physicality, who wholeheartedly carried out any chore his manager assigned to him. It was a reason he was so valued by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. The latter, in fact, was reluctant to see him go, but he couldn’t guarantee him game time, which Rooney, turning 32 in October, valued more than anything else. Hence, the move back to Everton, his childhood club, where he would hope to enjoy a second childhood.