Wayne Rooney

Twenty years since Rooney's rampage

Friday 14 June 2024 12:18

“Playing for my country, trying to help us win. I was almost riding a wave. I felt invincible.”

Twenty years ago this week, an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney was introducing himself to Lilian Thuram.

The Frenchman - a World Cup winner and European champion - was one of the most vaunted defenders in the game, while Rooney had just finished his first full top-flight season, playing for Everton, who finished 17th in the Premier League, narrowly avoiding relegation.

Thuram wasn’t convinced by the Toffees tyro, despite the significant impact he’d made since his memorable, game-winning debut against Arsenal as a 16-year-old in October 2002.

“I doubt how much Rooney can give to the England team,” Thuram said. “He is very young - too young for such a hard competition like this.

“He lacks international experience, so for England to depend on him to score their goals is dangerous.”

Thuram doubted Rooney's ability before Euro 2004 - but not afterwards.

In a way, Thuram was right. Rooney was young, but he was no ordinary teenager.

The future England and United force of nature was all set to tear up the tournament – and he didn’t much care for those in his path.

“He didn’t know who I was and [said] I was too young to play for England,” Wayne recalls, in a new documentary released by the BBC called ‘Rooney 2004: World at His Feet’.

“That stuck with me. I remember thinking: ‘okay, wait for this game because if I get a chance, I’m going to smash you basically.'”

Rooney stuck to his promise, smashing Thuram in the jaw with a forearm during one coming together, after causing real fear among the France defence during a virtuoso attacking performance that also saw him win a penalty.

“I wanted him to come off the pitch and say: ‘yeah, I know who he is now.’”

The tale is instructive of Rooney in 2004. He was fearless, unfazed. He even nutmegged Zinedine Zidane!

Zizou’s late double broke England hearts in the tournament opener, but Rooney had already caught the eye and he was ready to go on the rampage, with Switzerland and Croatia the unfortunate sides in his crosshairs.

He scored twice against the former, as the Three Lions kept themselves in contention by winning 3-0, before repeating the trick when Croatia were the opposition.

His goals exemplified his all-round ability: first, a header against the Swiss, before two long-rangers. Then there was a delightful one-two with Michael Owen that led to him sauntering through and slotting nonchalantly past Croatia keeper Tomislav Butina.

A quarter-final date with Portugal was set, and Wayne’s self-belief was almost bordering on arrogance now.

“There was a confidence amongst us, so it didn’t come as a surprise. It was almost like… 'yeah, this is meant to happen,'” he recalls.

Owen gave England a third-minute lead in Lisbon and it looked as though England were on an inevitable march to glory. 

Then, disaster struck. Rooney went in for a 50-50. His boot came off, and he heard a crack. He'd broken his metatarsal and his tournament was over.

A few hours later, so was England's. They'd let the lead slip to a now buoyant Portugal and, despite trading goals in extra-time, the hosts eventually won out, 6-5 on penalties.

“I think just where I was in that tournament, Portugal were a little bit intimidated by me. When I went off, I think they felt they could override, overpower and go and play their game.

“They took me to hospital, which I was gutted about because I was missing the rest of the game and there was a little TV in the corner. I was watching the end of extra-time, still in my England kit.

“I wasn’t even thinking about my foot, I was just gutted it was over, this tournament, this period.”

All The Goals: Wayne Rooney Video

All The Goals: Wayne Rooney

All The Goals | Wayne Rooney scored 253 times for United, more than any other player in our history...

Although arguably the best chance of a trophy for ‘the Golden Generation’ had slipped by, Rooney’s reign at the very top of the game was only just beginning.

The broken foot kept him out for the beginning of the 2004/05 season and by the time he next stepped out on to a football pitch, he was a Manchester United player.

Sir Alex Ferguson had clearly been impressed by what he’d seen in Portugal, paying a cool £30 million to secure Rooney’s signature on deadline day.

“I think we have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years," he declared. "Everyone is delighted by this signing.”

Reds supporters had to wait four weeks to see their new man in the flesh, but he then produced one of the great debuts, scoring a hat-trick against Fenerbahce in the Champions League - the first of a record 253 he'd net in his Old Trafford career.

You can watch Rooney 2004: World at His Feet on BBC iPlayer.