Manchester United v Sheffield United: Blades captain Jay McEveley relishes an FA Cup reunion with Wayne Rooney

Jay McEveley misses from the spot at Fleetwood last night
Jay McEveley misses from the spot at Fleetwood last night
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FOR those who are busy penning Wayne Rooney’s footballing obituary, Jay McEveley has a simple and stark message.

It goes along the lines of do not waste your time. Or give your head a wobble, as a Liverpudlian might put it.

The Sheffield United captain lines up against his fellow Scouser at Old Trafford today and his warm comments regarding the prowess of the Manchester United and England striker are not borne out of mere Merseyside kinship and rallying around him in his hour of need and protecting his own.

McEveley is well judged to comment on the ability of Rooney, having played against him in a footballing sense since he was the equivalent of being knee-high to a grasshopper – and quickly vouching for his ability when they were scholars on the books of Everton.

Rooney may have turned 30 in October, but McEveley is confident that will not dilute his powers on the pitch, although a power failure would be welcomed this tea-time.

On whether he could see Rooney’s special abilities from an early age, McEveley said: “I could, yes. I think he was eight or nine when he signed for Everton, which was more or less the same time as me.

“I played against him for a junior team. He was playing for Coppull House and I was playing for Genoa in a junior league.

“You could see back then. The keepers were only about so big and the goals were massive. He was just shooting from everywhere and scoring from 35 yards from when he was a kid.

“He took that onto the youth team and into the centre of excellence teams. He always played in our age group, a year up because I am a year older than him.

“He was something special. You could just tell, always scoring goals. If we were struggling in a game, he would always pop up with a few goals. You could just tell he would really kick on.

“When I left for Blackburn that’s when he really kicked on. He was 15 I think and he started getting into the under-19s, the reserves, Youth Cup teams and stuff and the year after he was first team.

“It was just his all-round game. You look at Wayne Rooney now and he is an all-round player. He can tackle, he can pass the ball, he can run, he can score goals, he can head it. He can do everything.

“Back then, he could just do everything. Certain players, like a winger, they can dribble and take people on. But like Steven Gerrard, he can do the lot.

“He was head and shoulders above everyone and he really kicked on.”

Of all Rooney’s traits, competitiveness, pride and being irked – call it what you will – at talk of his powers being on the slide are right up there.

His sumptuous finish in the Red Devils’ victory over Swansea City last weekend showed that while form is temporary class is permanent after he netted his first league goal since scoring at Goodison Park in October.

McEveley, for one, scoffs at talk that Rooney is a fading force and is well minded to pay his dues ahead of today’s appointment.

As for giving him criticism, he would not dream of it.

On premature talk of Rooney’s diminishing abilities and not being worthy of the world-class moniker, he added: “I don’t think there should be a question. I think it’s silly. His record speaks for itself.

“He is the record goalscorer for England and he will probably get the Manchester United record. How can you question someone who has done that, at that level for that long? You can’t. I think world-class is definitely his bracket.

“He’s very tough. As a centre-half, he was a nightmare. He would get the ball, drop deep, turn and just run at you. Especially when he was younger, he would just get it and run.

“It was like he was playing football on the streets with his mates. He would just get the ball, turn and just run and there was nothing you could do to stop him.

“Wayne has played up front, he can play in a 10 and you’ve seen not so long ago he was playing centre midfield. He can play anywhere.

“If I try to wind Wayne up, he’ll just laugh it off!”

For a player who turns 31 next month, occasions like today are ones that McEveley is dearly hoping to treasure and not pass up or forget in a hurry.

If the Blades do require inspiration, they certainly have it, given a medley of magic moments in cup competitions over the past few years at the likes of Villa Park, Upton Park and Loftus Road.

But McEveley acknowledges that getting a result at Old Trafford would be something else.

He said: “It’s going to be a proud moment for me leading Sheffield United out at Old Trafford. It’ll be one of the great moments of my career.

“But the whole attitude of the squad is that we are relaxed going into this tie. There’s no pressure on us whatsoever.

“We’ve had a good run in the cups over the past couple of years, beating some big teams and running other big teams close.

“But this is a whole different ball game because Man United are one of the biggest clubs in the world. On their patch it’s going to be tough, but all the pressure is on them.

“We can go there and relax. For us, there’s more pressure in League One games on a Saturday afternoon – even though we’ll be playing in front of 75,000 people at Old Trafford.

“We’ll need a bit of luck because Premier League teams find Old Trafford a very hard place to go, and we’ll need to perform to our very best, too. If we do that, we could cause a surprise.

“We’re not daunted by the challenge, and that’s the attitude we’ve had all through our cup runs. We’ve taken on Tottenham, West Ham, Southampton and QPR feeling the same way we do going into this one.

“We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“Confidence is high in the camp, so we can go there and really express ourselves.

“It’s an opportunity to write our name in Sheffield United history – definitely. I don’t see why we can’t go there and get a result.”