Wayne Rooney hangs up his boots

When we started blogging in 2002, Wayne Rooney was a 16 year-old phenom for Everton FC. This week, Rooney retired as a player. He will be the manager of Derby County in England’s second tier of football.

If I didn’t already feel old, this news would have done the trick.

Rooney wasn’t your average teenage phenom. He was probably the most promising soccer prospect England had produced in decades and is probably the most promising it has produced since. While still 16, he became the youngest goal scorer with an amazing last-minute goal that ended Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten streak (see video below).

Rooney went on to become the all-time leading goal scorer for Manchester United and for the England national team. The Athletic named him the ninth best player in the EPL’s 30-year history, and fourth best among English players.

On the international scene, Rooney dazzled for England at Euro 2004 at age 18. However, he disappointed, for various reasons, in subsequent World Cups and European Championships. This is the only blemish on his record.

In the end, I’d say Rooney lived up to around 95 percent of the immense potential he displayed as a teenager. Most of us would be happy to live up to the same percentage of our more modest promise.

What kind of manager will Rooney be? I don’t know. He has had personal disciplinary issues at times over the years. However, during his time in the U.S., playing for DC United, he earned the praise of teammates as a leader and mentor.

Rooney himself learned from the best club manager in English history, Sir Alex Ferguson, at Manchester United. But Fergie’s disciples have had mixed results in management. At any rate, because Rooney was a player-coach for a year and a half at Derby County and served briefly as the club’s interim manager, the Board knows what it’s getting.

I hope Rooney can succeed where so many recent Derby County managers have failed. However, his charges got off to an inauspicious start today. The Rams lost at home 0-1 to relegation rivals Rotherham. The club is now second from bottom in the second tier.

The Athletic’s UK staff asked readers to comment on Rooney’s playing career. Here are a few of the responses:

Maybe the best English player ever? Bizarrely underrated by the majority of people, maybe because of the Ronaldo comparison he had for a huge period of his career and his early decline. When you look at his actual achievements and ability he’s one of the best players of his generation. Up there for the best teenager of all time?

He’s not the best English player ever, but I agree with the rest of the comment.

This one seems spot on to me:

Certainly one of the best players of his generation. I feel he was probably underrated because of his flexibility, playing in multiple positions while never really demanding to be started in any of them consistently, but it speaks to his quality as a player that he could shift from being a more creatively focused player to an out and out goalscorer and then back again as needed by his club. Possibly a warning against pushing players too young given he’s retiring at 35 although his lifestyle and particular style of play likely also contributed.

This is an interesting summation by a Manchester United fan:

There were two seasons that stand-out where he was legitimately in contention of being the best attacker in Europe along with the duopoly of Messi and Ronaldo.

– 2009-2010 when he was a frightening striker (watch him against a quality AC Milan and Bayern team in the CL) who mixed the hunger and productivity of a #9, with the mobility and vision of a top quality #10. The injury against Bayern Munich away put paid to that version of Rooney, and I would argue, any possibility of him reaching his original potential. This is one of the big what-if moments in Rooney’s career and contributed to United falling away as an overall side too post 2009, though we still won titles.

– After a terrible first half of the season in 2010-2011, he was wonderful in our run to the CL final against Barca and looked the only United player on the pitch who wouldn’t be out of place in the other side. This version of Rooney was possibility the best second striker on the planet and carried this form to the first half of the next season. However, by this time injuries started catching up and his lack of motivation and drive to be a GOAT meant it was a slow decline after this. He still remained world class on his day and a quality premier league attacker, but was no longer the player the opponent feared and had to stop to win the game.

One often overlooked part of Rooney, was his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team and unselfishly step aside to support another major talent. However, I’d say this is part of the mentality issues that prevented him from achieving his potential. I can’t imagine Ronaldo doing the same and it’s that drive that made Ronaldo into the monster he is today.

Overall, Rooney produced moments that I truly cherish as a United fan and was a key member of one of the greatest teams Europe saw from 2006-2009.

I’ll conclude with this video of ten of Rooney’s most memorable goals (the one he scored as a 16 year-old against Arsenal is first up).