Rooney’s poetic side

The England striker, along with team-mate James Biggins, recited the poem called “When Saturday Comes” to a crowd of nearly 30 silent onlookers after an under-17 match against Holland at the Gladsaxe Stadion in Soborg on April 29, 2002. By Paul Hirst.

Some of the leading figures in music and literature turn to poetry when they want to confess their love for something and Wayne Rooney, seemingly, is no different.

For many people, 2004 was Rooney's breakthrough year with England. The 18-year-old striker scored four goals at the European Championship to help England reach the quarterfinals where they were cruelly eliminated on penalties by hosts Portugal.

Only Milan Baros scored more goals that summer and Rooney was named in the team of the tournament even though he had made just a handful of competitive starts for his country before the finals began. But in truth, the moment when the England coaching staff knew Rooney was going to be a huge star came two years earlier in Denmark.

Back then, coach Dick Bate had been asked to take charge of the England team for the under-17 European Championship. Bate had heard good things about a young Liverpudlian in Everton’s academy who was running rings around opponents for fun.

At first sight, there was little to suggest the teenager who reported for duty just before the championships would go on to be an integral part of the senior side for many years.

“He didn't stand out, not in terms of the way he dressed or behaved,” Bate says. Once he had seen Rooney in action, Bate’s opinion changed.

“His attitude was absolutely first-class,” Bate said. “He was combative without being over-aggressive and I liked that. He was a genuine boy and a genuine footballer.”

On April 29, 2002, a crowd of 711 assembled at the Gladsaxe Stadion in Soborg to watch England face Holland. After 31 minutes, Rooney picked up the ball off Lee Croft and shuffled it from his left foot to his right before firing into the far corner.

It was his first goal representing England and he would score four more on the way towards winning the player-of-the-tournament award.

Rooney’s love affair with England had begun and he wanted to share it with his team-mates. On the night England were eliminated the squad convened for a farewell meal. Then something unexpected happened.

After gaining Bate’s permission, Rooney stood up and produced a piece of paper from his pocket. On it he had written a poem about how much he loved playing for his country. Rooney, along with team-mate James Biggins, recited the poem called “When Saturday Comes” to a crowd of nearly 30 silent onlookers.

“I think it took most of the group aback,” Bate said. Dressing-room convention dictates Bate is not allowed to reveal the full contents of the poem, but it is safe to say there were no rhyming couplets or iambic pentameters involved. But that did not matter.

“Here was a young boy just expressing his love for England in the best format and most succinct manner he could,” said Bate, who has 37 years’ coaching experience. “I have never seen anyone stand up and do that before. I will never forget it.”

From then on, Rooney’s career looked set to go in just one direction — up. In February 2003 he became the youngest player to earn a senior cap when he came off the bench in the 3-1 defeat to Australia. His team-mates spoke about watching a young Rooney laughing and joking with his international team-mates on the way to the match at Upton Park. He was not fazed by what lay ahead, as he demonstrated when he impressed on an otherwise shambolic night for English football. “His first touch was top class,” Sven-Goran Eriksson said. “Every time he had the ball at his feet you thought something important could happen.”

Rooney became England’s youngest goal-scorer in a qualifier against Macedonia and it came as no surprise when Eriksson named him in his EURO 2004 squad. It was equally unsurprising when Rooney took the tournament by storm, scoring a brace against Switzerland and Croatia. Rooney was front and back page news. Steven Gerrard was not exaggerating when he described Rooney’s form as the “best in Europe”. Eriksson ramped the hype up too much by comparing the 18-year-old to Pele.

Soon after completing his GBP30million move to Manchester United, questions were raised about Rooney’s temperament.

Eriksson had to substitute a raging Rooney in the first half against Spain after he picked up a booking and threatened to earn a second. Rooney argued with David Beckham and several of the Northern Ireland team during England’s embarrassing defeat in Belfast. That temper was to cost England at the 2006 World Cup. Weeks after declaring “the big man is back” following his famous metatarsal injury, Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho, although Cristiano Ronaldo played his part in the dismissal of his United team-mate.

Eriksson said he was “200 per cent” sure Rooney would bounce back from the sending-off, but England did not. They fell into a slumber under Steve McClaren, but Rooney led the fight back under Fabio Capello.

With the Golden Generation now a fading force, Rooney was the main man and he thrived under expectation, winning England’s Player of the Year award in 2008 and 2009.

Rooney could not carry his form into the 2010 World Cup though. Again going into the tournament suffering from injury, he failed to score and produced an ill-advised flurry of abuse at England fans following the 0-0 draw against Algeria. The issue of Rooney’s temperament again came to the fore when he was sent off for flippantly kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic in a qualifier against Montenegro in October 2011, which meant he missed England’s first two matches of EURO 2012.

Rooney scored the winner against co-hosts Ukraine on his return but England went out on penalties for the third time in his international career.

Rooney broke his World Cup duck in Brazil last summer, but England crashed out in the group stages. One good thing was to come out of the tournament for Rooney though. His team-mate and close friend Gerrard quit international football and manager Roy Hodgson handed the armband to Rooney.

“It’s a great honour. I’m very proud,” Rooney said.

His career will be tinged with sadness though if he retires without lifting an international trophy.

© PA Sport