Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney believes “95 per cent” of his game was learned on the streets of Liverpool and in small-sided matches.
The England striker, who’s fast closing in on 400 appearances and 200 goals for the Reds, is a big advocate of five-a-side football and holds many memories of long evenings spent with his mates on tarmac and astro-turf.
In an interview for Nike Football, Rooney recalls those carefree days and explains how small-sided football helped him become one of the best players in world football.
Tell us about the area in which you grew up...
Football was everything to me and my friends and we’d go out every day to play. Before school, after school, during school, football was all we were interested in. I think that was the same for so many kids growing up near me. I’d wake up, have breakfast, go out and play, go in, put my uniform on and head to school with a ball. I’d play before class, at lunchtime, come home and get out and play until it got dark. It was like a job even back then. I loved it so much. I think my mum was quite happy, as she knew exactly where I was.
So, where did you start playing football?
I was very fortunate. At the back of my house there was a tarmac five-a-side pitch that belonged to the local youth club. I’d only have to climb over my garden fence and there I was. There were other places, too – we’d find a pitch in most spots but it was that pitch behind my house that me and my mates would play on for hours.
How many people would be playing in these games?
After school it could start out as three-a-side but soon end up 15-a-side. In the school holidays it might get to even more but soon people would tire and drop out and you might end up with just a few of you and the sun going down. I’d be out there on my own as well. I’d go out with just a ball and practice shooting or dribbling or whatever.
So, how much did that style of football help you perfect your skills?
It helped me loads. When I was on my own it was perfect. It was enclosed so I could smash the ball about and