A teenager from Merseyside had begun to turn heads in Manchester (and in England to a greater extent), courtesy of his brilliant performances in the Premier League. Everton's young forward Wayne Rooney had started to become the talk of the town as a potential future star.
As always, while others talked and analyzed, Manchester United's legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson made his move. He intervened personally to ensure that Rooney was picked up by Manchester United.
With Everton looking to stabilize their finances, the club put a hefty price tag on their young forward. While other clubs balked at the asking price of an unproven talent, Ferguson trusted his instincts and shelled out £30m back in 2004 to sign the teenager on deadline day.
Four weeks later, Rooney was making his Champions League debut for the Red Devils against Fenerbahce at Old Trafford. United whipped the visitors 6-2, with Wayne Rooney scoring a hat-trick, aged 18.
Thus began a 13-year love affair between a player and a club that ended with Rooney becoming Manchester United's all-time leading scorer. The dream kept on growing as a young Rooney opened his Premier League account for the Red Devils by netting against bitter rivals Arsenal to help his team register a 2-0 win.
It was a decent start for an 18-year-old who ended his first season with 11 goals in 29 appearances. United and the world had reaslied that they had an uncut diamond in football. The question was how to develop it best. Ferguson did justice as he thrust more responsibility on the young player, without overburdening him with the duties of the team.
Rooney backed up his debut season with another great campaign by scoring 19 goals in the 2005-06 term. The rise continued as Rooney finished the 2006-07 season with 23 goals and a Premier League winner's title to boot.
Rooney had become a regular in the star-studded United team and alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, the England forward planned to dominate club football. They delivered the same as the Red Devils won the Champions League and the Premier League in the 2007-08 season.
Rooney's personal goal tally dwindled down to 18 for the said campaign but that was only for the sake of the team. The England forward sacrificed his his role as finisher to better serve an emerging Ballon d'Or winner in Cristiano Ronaldo.
United won a third league title in a row in the 2008-09 season, with Rooney scoring 20 goals. With 91 goals in his kitty, Rooney was still far away from Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 249 goals for Manchester United.
Rooney kept on scoring and delivered top performances, which eventually saw him break the record after eight more seasons at Old Trafford. His delightful free-kick against Stoke City marked the goal where Rooney became the club's new top-scorer (2016-17). He ended his United tally with 253 goals.
Rooney left as club captain after guiding United to a Community Shield, Carabao Cup and a Europa League title in his final season at Old Trafford.
The England forward returned to his former home at Everton, where he played for the next 12 months. He then had a brief spell with DC United before returning to Derby County in 2019 as player-coach. Rooney hung his boots in January 2021 to become permanent manager at the Rams.
His legacy at United on paper is that Rooney is the current top scorer at the club. However, he is much more than that. Rooney embodied United's winning desires and team spirit. He was a warrior who managers loved to have in their team.
Rooney, a prodigious talent himself, sacrificed his goal scoring exploits to better help the team. Very few forwards who score regularly would let go of their position to accommodate new strikers in the team.
His versatility to play in the wings or in central midfield made him an asset to any team and he will forever be remembered for being the ultimate team man. Old Trafford will always remember Rooney as the ultimate manifestation of Sir Alex Ferguson's winning mentality at Manchester United.