Throwback: Wayne Rooney's Manchester United debut
For any Manchester United fan, who has been religiously following the club at least for a decade now, the recent performances of the man who dons the armband, Wayne Rooney, has left a sour taste in the mouth.
Fans and pundits, however, are often guilty of falling prey to the power of nostalgia as the stellar past contributions of a legend very often blind us to his ageing decadence.
But Jose Mourinho is clearly not one such man. His favouring of pragmatism ahead of any lofty footballing philosophy – a word that became much abused at the club thanks to this predecessor – saw him axe Bastian Schweinsteiger and now drop Wayne Rooney to the bench.
Such was the aura of the current club and England captain that no one dared disturb the myth of Rooney to point out that his current performances, for quite some time now, have not been good enough to warrant a place in the team.
Louis Van Gaal had even gone to the extent of saying that Rooney enjoys special privileges. But Mourinho's decision, fuelled as always by his pragmatism, has made the England interim coach, Gareth Southgate, now follow suit.
Opinions over Rooney continue to be divided. Booed by a section of England fans during their 2-0 win against Malta, Rooney has been lambasted by legends including Alan Shearer leading to rumours that his time as a premier league player is coming to an end.
Others, like the former Red Devils striker Andy Cole, have publicly spoken out in support saying, "He will get his form back for Manchester United and no doubts he will get himself back in the team."
Truth be told, however, it has been painful to watch Rooney this season. His movement has been laboured and his first touch wasteful at best. He spends far too much time dropping deep and chasing the ball, often finishing with too few touches inside the box.
If he is to be relegated to the bench permanently by Mourinho, Rooney on his £300,000 per week wage might well prove be the white elephant for the United management. Yet, it seems difficult to recall a time twelve years ago when Rooney made his dream debut for United and went on to be a young sensation that England fans hailed him as the 'White Pele'.
The sensational transfer to United
Back in 2004, Rooney arrived at United on the transfer deadline day in a whopping £27 million deal. With his agent Paul Stretford being paid £1.5 million, Rooney was set to earn £55,000 per week, a staggering amount of money back then for an 18-year old.
But Rooney was the new kid on the block. Ever since his arrival in the Premiership a couple of years ago, he had scored 17 goals for the Toffees – including a magical and much talked about goal against Arsenal – who were finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to him.
(Video Courtesy: hacirooney YouTube channel)
United had had an initial bid of £20m rejected, while Newcastle's bids of £20m and £23.5m could not persuade the Goodison club. The improved bid from United on deadline day coupled with the promise of Champions League football ultimately did the trick for the 18-year old teenage sensation, who had already put in a transfer request.
Everton fans were vitriolic over Rooney’s departure; he, however, defended his decision to join Manchester United. “It was a tough decision to leave Everton, the club I've supported and played for all my life, but I'm excited to be joining a club as big as Manchester United. I feel this can only improve my career, playing with top players in top competitions like the Champions League and I can't wait to meet up with the team,” he said.
There was also understandable consternation at Sir Alex Ferguson's eagerness for the multi-million pound deal but he defended his decision saying, “I'm very excited, I think we've got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years. Everyone is delighted by this signing.”
And as on most occasions, Ferguson was not wrong. Rooney would soon take the footballing world by strong and his name would go on to be synonymous with the club for years to come.
A dream debut
(Video Courtesy: WayneRooney10i YouTube Channel)
After his sensational move to United, the fans had to wait for almost a month before Rooney pulled on a United shirt. Rooney had arrived with a broken foot and after going through rehabilitation, Ferguson held him back from the league match to hand out his debut against Fenerbahçe in the UEFA Champions League.
Little did the thousands of fans waiting with bated breath for a glimpse of their new teenage sensation know that a star would be born that night of 28th September back in 2004. It would be a performance so stamped with authority and class that Ferguson would be proved right almost instantly.
Having been out injured for three months and burdened with a ridiculous price tag, Rooney was feeling the adrenaline rush and the nervous excitement in the stadium. Though United had a strong defence bolstered by the return of Gary Neville, their midfield looked vulnerable on the day.
Roy Keane had been rested, John O'Shea was on the bench while Paul Scholes was out injured. Ferguson set up a midfield with David Bellion, Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba. Rooney was living his dream, partnering up alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
Ferguson had a word in Rooney's ear just before he strode out of the tunnel. “This is what you want to be doing, you want be playing in Champions League games and be part of special nights like these at Old Trafford,” he said. The gaffer's words left an impression on the youngster's mind.
An early goal by Giggs from a Kleberson assist calmed the nerves and set the stage for Rooney to weave his magic. And cast his spell he did. In the 17th minute, United broke on the counter until Nistelrooy played a sumptuous pass to find Rooney. The teenager obliged playing a thunderous dink past the keeper who had come off his line.
The second came in the 28th minute as Rooney received a pass from Giggs, went past sidestepping the visiting skipper Ümit Ozan and unleashed a 22-yard shot into the bottom left corner of the net. The slick touches and magical finishing made Rooney a favourite already half an hour into his debut.
The hat-trick came from a free kick shortly before the hour mark. Just as Giggs was all set to take the free-kick, Rooney walked up to him and said, “I think I’m going to score this, I fancy myself to score.” A booming 20-yard free-kick flew into the net as Rooney completed a famous debut hat-trick.
Rooney definitely did not lack swagger, he was now turning on the style. In jubilant exhilaration, he even ran to the corner flag, arms outstretched, mimicking the celebration of David Beckham.
The Old Trafford crowd went berserk chanting 'Rooney, Rooney, Rooney' as the debutant put on a dazzling display of power, poise and panache. He then set one up for Bellion who round up a commanding performance that ended 6-2 in United's favour.
Roy Keane said that Rooney was the only player he would pay to watch, and Ferguson, rather prematurely perhaps, compared him to Eric Cantona.
Cantona, however, had never lit up the Champions League like Rooney, and his closest competitor was the legendary Sir Boby Charlton, who had scored a brace in his league debut. Rooney went one better.
Rooney said, “I was excited for the game,” said Rooney, now captain of both United and England, “and it couldn't have gone any better. The first goal I scored was a nice through ball by Ruud [van Nistelrooy] and I managed to hit it over the goalkeeper with my left foot.”
"It was a great relief more than anything because at the time it was a lot of money for a young player. [The third] was a special moment which I'll never forget. To score a hat-trick on your debut in the Champions League was a great feeling."
The very special performance set the tone for what was to come. Lightening fast counter-attacks and incredible finishes were the backbone of that golden Ferguson era driven by Rooney's partnership with Nistelrooy, Giggs and Ronaldo.
But that Champions League night is unforgettable as Old Trafford caught their first glimpse of the plump, white magician who would change the future forever.