Ten years ago a wonder goal heralded Rooneymania... and English football was never the same
Boy wonder: Wayne Rooney celebrates with Kevin Campbell
This Friday marks the 10th anniversary of Wayne Rooney's wonder goal against Arsenal, the moment a 16-year-old kid announced himself as the natural heir to Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham as the most talked-about and talented English footballer of his generation.
The world was stunned when Rooney, recently out of school, controlled a long pass from Everton's Thomas Gravesen in the final minute before firing past England keeper David Seaman from 30 yards to earn a 2-1 win against the champions, ending their 30-game unbeaten run.
Arsene Wenger said Rooney was the brightest British talent he had seen and, in many ways, the striker has not disappointed; winning four League titles, playing in three Champions League finals and having the chance to break England records for appearances and goals. But with the fame have come stories about smoking, gambling, womanising and fitness issues. He has failed to score in two World Cup tournaments, leaving his legacy as a world-class player in doubt.
However, nothing can detract from how Rooney became a superstar overnight. JOE BERNSTEIN speaks to five men who all knew the young lad from Croxteth back then and will never forget the impact he made.
'He was shy but loved the banter and just fitted in. We had senior pros but he didn't need protecting'
It wasn't a case of if Wayne Rooney was going to make it, but when. We'd got used to him doing ridiculous things in training so it wasn't a shock to us that he could score a goal like that against Arsenal. I won a header to set the attack going.
Thomas Gravesen pinged a ball to Wayne and I was right behind the line of his shot. I thought it was going over but it dipped at the last moment. By the time I got over to celebrate, it was a melee with everyone jumping on Wayne. The dressing room afterwards was noisy, euphoric, plenty of testosterone and players jumping around.
Wayne wasn't singled out, though. It was a victory shared by the team. I think he just went back with his friends and family to Croxteth after the game.
Wayne was one of the best trainers. He'd be out at half-past nine, an hour before we were due to start, and he'd have to be dragged off at the end. I think he's still the same at United.
I also remember he loved going in goal, he was even good at that. He was shy at 16 but loved all the banter of being with the first team. He just fitted in.
There were good senior pros around but he didn't need protecting. I saw him on holiday in Portugal recently and he hasn't changed.
'He went straight from school to training with the first team, which is unheard of, but he handled it'
ALAN IRVINE (Everton No2)
Wayne didn't need to be coached, he had such a good understanding of the game. He went straight from school to training permanently with the first team, unheard of in my experience. It was a case of sink or swim - and Wayne swam. He could handle it physically and mentally, whereas other talented young players couldn't. He coped.
Everybody knew he had that volatile side to his game, a lot of successful people have that fire and passion, never mind just in football. I remember having a conversation with him about records, I said: 'Let's make sure you're breaking them in 10 years' time!'
Wayne at 16 wasn't lots of trouble, but it was clear he was going to get money thrown at him and a lot of distractions. Like with any young boy, we were just saying, 'be careful', the challenge was controlling that volatility.
And as the years have gone on, he has got a lot better controlling that. It doesn't surprise me, though, he always had good parents and people around him. I use his goal against Arsenal as part of the presentations I do now as Everton's academy director. I've shown it to everyone from the Chinese FA to UEFA. That commentary: 'Remember the name … Wayne Rooney,' has become a special line.
We knew Wayne was capable of a goal like that, so it wasn't a massive surprise. We were aware there would be massive interest in him. David Moyes had seen how Ryan Giggs had been protected by Sir Alex Ferguson and the feeling was why would we do anything different.
'As a kid he showed me a T-shirt - Once A Blue, Always A Blue - that his cousin had done for him'
PETER McINTOSH (First agent)
Wa yne always had great support from his family. I drove Wayne Snr (Rooney's father) and grandad Billy around the country for youth games.
One trip to see Wayne play for England U-16s took us three or four hours to get from Liverpool to Rushden - and another hour to find the ground.
All three of us went on the supporters' coach to Southampton in April 2002 because Wayne had just left school and was on the bench, so it was going to be his debut. He warmed up six or seven times, we all thought he was coming on but Moyesie never put him on!
Another memory is sitting in Wayne's house in Huyton with his parents and Wayne came down to show me a T-shirt - Once A Blue, Always A blue - his cousin had just done for him upstairs in the house that afternoon.
I thought something was up that summer [before he lost Rooney to Paul Stretford]. I went to Wayne's grandmother's funeral and a few people were a bit distant. Then at a match at Goodison, Billy gave me a big hug and said: 'Sorry, it was nothing to do with me.'
By the time he scored against Arsenal, everyone in the game knew his talent - it was the worst-kept secret within football.
'Even at 16, he had this aura about him and as a keeper what struck me was his shooting'
Richard Wright of Everton
RICHARD WRIGHT (Team-mate)
I'd joi ned Everton from Arsenal in the summer of 2002 and David Moyes used Wayne as a selling point, even though he'd not played for the first team by then. We were chatting about the club and the manager said: 'We've got this 16-year-old kid Wayne Rooney, he's going to be special.'
You hear this about young players from time to time, but once I'd started facing him in training, I knew what he meant. As a goalkeeper, the thing that struck me was the strength he had in his shooting.
I'd played for Arsenal and England but the only comparable striker was Alan Shearer, and Wayne was only at the very start of his career. Usually the guys who hit the ball hardest might be defenders who don't have the balance on the ball, but Wayne had both power and poise.
He was a great trainer and I'd often help out after regular practice to keep goal as he practised his shooting. Or just as likely, he'd want to take the gloves from me because he loved throwing himself around in goal, and he wasn't bad.
Wayne had this aura about him, even at 16 nothing fazed him. I was desperate to beat my former club so when the ball hit the back of the net, I couldn't have been happier.
I was possibly the only Everton player who didn't go up to jump on his back - running was never my forte and it was a long way away!
I've bumped into Wayne since then and he's still the same guy. He never got too big for his boots, and always stops for a chat, like he always did.
'As soon as the goal went in, the cat was out of the bag. It was Rooneymania'
DARREN GRIFFITHS (Everton Press officer)
I was in the stands commentating for Radio Everton sat next to another Everton player, Steve Watson. When Wayne scored, we lost it completely. Steve ripped the headset off and started jumping up and down - I don't know what the listeners must have thought! It was surreal.
Of course, all of us at the club knew about Wayne. Even at 13 and 14, he stood out - a boy in a man's body.
The previous season, in the FA Youth Cup, a journalist asked me if there was any player to look out for. I said: 'The boy Rooney isn't bad.' He smashed one in from distance and the journalist just sat there open-mouthed.
Wayne made his first-team debut for Everton against Spurs in the first game of 2002-03, and the irony is that there was more attention on Li Tie, who was also making his debut as the first Chinese player in English football. But it was only a matter of time for Wayne to make headlines, and the Arsenal game was it.
As a Press officer, the manager made his intentions quite clear that Wayne was to be protected because he was only a few months out of school. We told Wayne if people approached him directly, to be polite but to say "No".
As soon as the goal went in, against the champions and the England goalkeeper, it was one of those moments when you're sitting there realising nothing would be the same again.
The cat was out of the bag about Wayne. It was Rooneymania.