SOMEWHAT fittingly it was at Lisbon’s Stadium of Light in June 2004 where Wayne Rooney’s glorious England epiphany took place.
The 18-year-old from Merseyside – just as a young tyro from the Tyne by the name of Paul Gascoigne had done in Cagliari 14 years earlier against Holland at Italia 90 – announced himself not just to the country and Europe, but the wider footballing planet.
A beguiling performance saw the two-goal teenager paint beautiful pictures in the Portuguese sun, headlined by an insouciant second strike that only the very best were capable of scoring as England progressed into the knock-out stages of Euro 2004 after a 4-2 success over Croatia.
England’s red jersey had not seemed as resplendent on any individual since the heroes of ‘66 wore it with such distinction on that momentous afternoon in London.
It was a joyous moment when Rooney steered the ball effortlessly past Croatia’s Tomislav Butina after racing clear to make it 3-1 on 68 minutes.
Beside himself with joy and speaking for a nation after Rooney raced to celebrate with England’s ecstatic supporters, John Motson uttered: “Look at the faces in the crowd. They are welcoming a hero there and acknowledging that Rooney is the big discovery of Euro 2004.”
Indeed he was and here was the great Anglo-Saxon challenge to the likes of Brazilian stars such as Ronaldo and Ronaldinho on the world stage.
But sadly, Rooney’s reign at the international summit was a transient one, as it had proved earlier for poor old Gazza.
Football’s glitterati are judged on the highest stages: tournaments. In that respect, Rooney - for all his commitment to the Three Lions cause - left supporters wanting more.The YP@s Leon Wobschall
On one level, Rooney’s statistics, following his decision to call time on his England career today, may stack up. A total of 119 caps points to longevity and a sense of duty and a record-breaking 53 goals indicates some degree of importance and consistency.
But football’s glitterati are judged on the highest stages: tournaments. In that respect, Rooney - for all his commitment to the Three Lions cause - left supporters wanting more.
Of Rooney’s six goals at three European international tournaments, four arrived at Euro 2004.
A sign of things to come arrived shortly after his majestic performance against the Croats at the home of Benfica when he limped off with injury early on in England’s quarter-final exit to the hosts.
The sense of non-fulfillment would continue and prove a sadly recurrent theme.
True, the fates were not kind. Like in the World Cup of 2006 when a broken bone in the fourth metatarsal on his right foot stymied his powers and involvement in what was supposed to be the Golden Generation’s defining moment.
A stamp on Portugal’s Alberto Ricardo Carvalho, which saw him dismissed in another last-eight elimination at the hands of the Portuguese sadly proved prophetic. It was his then Manchester United team-mate Ronaldo who ultimately kicked on to become the world’s best, with Rooney having to settle for provincial greatness.
For Rooney, that baggage of carrying England’s hopes became an oppressive one; a deadweight. There was no lack of effort to recreate the stellar impact he enjoyed in 2004, just without the desired results.
The frustration that accompanied that was showcased in his brooding and angry berating of England supporters at South Africa 2010 when he stomped off the pitch after a turgid draw with Algeria in Cape Town with the sardonic retort to fans in front of the TV cameras of ‘It’s nice to see your own fans booing.’ Not good.
Then, there was Euro 2012, when he was suspended for the first two matches and behind the eight-ball in terms of match-fitness. Frustration became a recurring theme.
The record of no goals in eight World Cup appearances proved an albatross around his neck and sense of sheer relief at breaking his duck in England’s group game with Uruguay in Sao Paolo was all-consuming.
The nation empathised and was with him on that night. But sadly, inevitably, it was the prelude to more despair. England lost 2-1 and were teetering on the brink of elimination from that summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
It was perhaps a microcosm of Rooney’s international career. Fleeting joy, but an ultimate sense of what might have been.