April 24, 2005. As far as dates go, there was nothing special about it. The United States had a Republican President in George W Bush, rapper 50 Cent was terrorising teens with his infamous Candy Shop song that had all kinds of ‘read between the lines’ lyrics like ‘lick my lollipop’ and the XXX movies that Vin Diesel made famous were still the go-to action comedies.
It was also the day when Wayne Rooney was angry. In a match against Newcastle, as he recalled in his autobiography, nothing seemed to be going for him.
In the book, ‘My decade in the Premier League’ Rooney reiterates how he loves scoring goals, but when he can’t find his touch, helps out by tracking back, making assists and making a nuisance of himself for defenders. In general, that is what he did. On that day in April, nothing seemed to work and he was angry. So angry, that when he realised he was about to be subbed off, he whacked a stray ball from some 30 yards out into the ‘keeper’s top-right corner against Newcastle United.
That goal, a sumptuous volley, would be replayed repeatedly on YouTube, and his celebration, would show the hunger the Englishman always had. 90 minutes of non-stop, high-intensity running. He was a fighter.
Rooney would call that one of the best goals of his career, while also saying that later on he sees himself playing in a deeper midfield role.
A little more than 11 years later, and the Manchester United captain has reached that point. He has been at that point for around two years, but now, it shows.
Where does he go from here?
When Jose Mourinho took over at Manchester United, he was asked where Rooney would play.
“In football there are many jobs,” the manager said. “The one that is more difficult to find is the guy who has to put the ball on the net. Maybe he (Rooney) is not a striker, not a No. 9 anymore but for me he will never be a No. 6, playing 50 metres from the goal. You can tell me his pass is amazing but my pass is also amazing without pressure. For me he will be a 9, a 10, a nine-and-a-half but never a 6 or even an 8.”
Mourinho had made his stance clear, but seven league matches into the season, and Rooney finds himself a substitute for the Red Devils. Critiqued by fans and the media, every touch he makes in the half-an hour or so he gets on the pitch is scrutinised, usually, with good reason.
The boy who scored that volley against Newcastle is still in there somewhere but being in a man’s body, age has taken over. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial do what Rooney used to with ease. His number 10 role has been taken over by Juan Mata, while a 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to defy ageing and score goals.
Rooney is still, and will always be a class player. One who runs tirelessly for his team and is a lion biting into tackles. But the boy from that Sunday afternoon against Newcastle, is gone.