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With Wayne Rooney firing on all cylinders, skysports.com's Chris Burton picks out a selection of his career highlights
From teenage prodigy to world superstar - via Goodison Park, Old Trafford, Wembley and the Luzhniki Stadium - the rise and rise and Wayne Rooney has been a sight to behold.
So much was expected of him during his formative years in the youth ranks at Everton that it is remarkable he did not buckle under the pressure.
Rooney, though, has always been destined for great things and he has taken everything football has thrown at him in his stride.
There have been highs and lows in his short but glittering career, but no-one ever said the route to the top was an easy one.
Broken bones, red cards and off-field controversy may have overshadowed his achievements at times, but he has always bounced back bigger and stronger.
Still only 24 years old, there is the promise of much to come from Rooney in the future, which is a scary thought given the rich vein of form he is enjoying at present.
Rooney, under the careful guidance of David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson, has blossomed into a world-class centre-forward and could hold the key to England's World Cup dreams in South Africa this summer.
Having stepped out of Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow at Old Trafford, he has juggled the responsibility of grabbing precious goals with the leadership qualities that mark him out as a potential leader of club and country in the future.
It is remarkable to think that few outside of his native Merseyside had heard of him when he first burst onto the scene in 2002, but, eight years on, he is now the name on everybody's lips and a place alongside the all-time greats of the game beckons for one of the most exciting prospects to emerge from English ranks.
Here skysports.com pays homage to this once-in-a-lifetime talent with a look at some of the peaks and troughs in his career so far.
Five days short of his 17th birthday, Rooney announced his arrival to the world in style with an outrageous 25-yard effort against reigning champions Arsenal, which secured a memorable victory for Everton and ended the Gunners' 30-match unbeaten run. His stinging drive from distance left David Seaman flapping at thin air before crashing into the net off the underside of the crossbar. A star was born then and, although James Milner and James Vaughan have since usurped him as the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history, Rooney had set out on a path which would see him re-write the record books on numerous occasions over the years.
The next record to fall to this precociously-gifted youngster was the honour of being England's youngest debutant. Still only 17 at the time, making him eligible for both the Under 19 and U21 sides, Sven Goran Eriksson drafted him into the senior fold for a friendly date with Australia in February 2003. The result at Upton Park that night may not have gone England's way, as they slipped to a 3-1 defeat, but Rooney offered enough to suggest that he was going to be a leading light in the national team for many years to come.
Up and running
Seven months after making his entrance into the international arena, Rooney bagged his first goal at that level. Aged 17 years and 317 days he became the youngest man to find the target while donning the famous Three Lions. He coolly slotted home a knock-back from Emile Heskey to put England on the road to recovery against Macedonia in a Euro 2004 qualifier. At that tournament he became the youngest man to notch at a European Championship, when he pounced against Switzerland, but he would hold that record for just four days before Swiss starlet Johan Vonlanthen snatched it away.
Blue to red
Rooney infamously revealed a t-shirt proclaiming, 'Once a Blue, always a Blue' during his days in the youth ranks at Everton, but committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of Toffees followers everywhere in August 2004 when he turned his back on the club and signed for North West rivals Manchester United. Another record fell in the process, with a £25.6million transfer fee making him the most expensive teenager in history. Many wondered whether he would ever be able to live up to such a lofty billing, having never been prolific during his days at Goodison Park, but he has since silenced those critics in the best possible manner. The money splashed out by United now looks like a bargain, with Sir Alex Ferguson's faith repaid in spades.
Rooney was forced to wait until 28th September 2004 before making his United bow, but introduced himself to his new employers in breathtaking style as he grabbed a hat-trick on debut. Turkish giants Fenerbahce had no answer to him during a UEFA Champions League clash at Old Trafford, with Rooney quickly endearing himself to the United faithful. His first season with the Red Devils would see him, and the club, end the campaign potless, but his rapid rise to prominence was recognised with the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
As another World Cup looms into view, it would be nice if we could wrap our star men in cotton wool and shut them away somewhere until the finals get underway. Recent years have seen England's hopes at major tournaments damaged by untimely knocks during the build-up, with David Beckham and Rooney prime examples. Both suffered broken metatarsals, and both picked up the knocks in World Cup year. Rooney's injury blow came against Chelsea in April 2006, leaving him little to no time to recover full fitness before the pursuit of global glory began. In the end he made Eriksson's final cut, with the help of an oxygen tent, but he made little impact in Germany and returned home without finding the target.
In fact, the most notable episode of Rooney's time in Germany came when he was ushered from the field. England faced old enemies Portugal in the quarter-finals, looking to avenge their penalty shootout defeat at the hands of the same opponents at Euro 2004. Rooney's presence was pivotal to their hopes of emerging on top, but he lasted just 62 minutes. Penalised for a petulant stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, he was shown a red card and England's hopes of World Cup glory disappeared with him down the tunnel. His spat with then club team-mate Ronaldo helped to take some of the flak off his shoulders, with Rooney able to steer clear of the public backlash which greeted Beckham's dismissal against Argentina in 1998.
Rooney's dismissal against Portugal was not the first time he had been sent for an early bath, with his early career blighted by concerns regarding his temperament. Mild-mannered and shy off the field, he morphs into a raging bull on it. Controlling this aggression has been an issue over the years, with managers reluctant to curb his temper too much for fear of removing a key attribute of his game. He does appear to have got the demons under control, with his performances now full-blooded, but well within the boundaries of what is acceptable. To put his recent showings into perspective, cast your mind back to March 2009 and the sight of a fuming Rooney trudging down the tunnel at Fulham, throwing a wild swing at a defenceless corner flag as he went. His blood does still boil at times, and he remains something of a ticking time bomb, but he does seem to be putting his all-encompassing desire to win to better use.
Arguably the highlight of his career so far, Rooney helped Manchester United to conquer the continent in 2007/08. The UEFA Champions League crown was secured after an epic battle with Premier League rivals Chelsea in the imposing surrounds of Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. Rooney would have hoped to have had a greater say in the outcome, with penalties ultimately required, but he put in a brave, combative display. He managed to avoid being dragged into the lottery of spot-kicks after being substituted in extra-time, but it is likely he would have stepped up to the plate had he still been on the field, that is just the sort of character he is.
Perhaps the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon any player is to offer them the opportunity to skipper their country. Rooney was awarded that task in November 2009 when he was handed the captain's armband for a friendly against Brazil. England lost 1-0 that night, in difficult conditions in Doha, but the game will live long in Rooney's memory. He was recently overlooked by Fabio Capello as the Italian sought to replace the ousted John Terry in the role, but it is widely assumed that it is only a matter of time before he is asked to lead the Three Lions on a permanent basis.
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