Long read | Wazza's first interview as a Red

Friday 22 March 2024 09:00

Back in the autumn of 2004, Wayne Rooney sat down with the official United mag for his first big interview since his record-breaking move.

Still getting used to the glare of the spotlight, the then 18-year-old displayed his trademark determination when it came to fulfilling his huge promise and making his mark on Old Trafford history. It's a truly fascinating read...


Have you ever arm-wrestled a team-mate, Wayne? “Er, no." Never? You must have? 

Wayne shakes his head. The table is just at the right height, too. You know what's coming next… Wayne takes a few seconds to weigh up my offer and about as much time again to crush my fingers and take my arm down with a thud that would have done Hulk Hogan proud. He grins, I grimace. 1-0 to the quietly spoken teenager. 

Whether it's scoring goals or a test of strength, Wayne Rooney wants to win. He's a strong lad as well, take my word for it, yet the 18-year-old powerhouse does not spend hours pumping iron in the gym. "I don't do weights," explains Wayne, who looks mean and muscular in a branded T-shirt. Casual jeans and retro Air Max trainers complete the urban look. 

“'I'm naturally big anyway so I don't want to overdo it by doing bench presses and that," he explains. "After training I do more running in the gym, go on the bike for about half-an-hour and do a bit of circuit training with different machines.” 

Unsurprisingly, Rooney was the cover star of Inside United magazine following his transfer to the club.
Gym work has been a feature of Rooney's first month at Old Trafford as he battles to get fully match-fit after breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot during Euro 2004. 

It was an injury that many believed cost England the chance of beating Portugal, especially after his scintillating performances against France, Switzerland and Croatia, which saw him net four times. He certainly showed a clean pair of heels to Mikael Silvestre in England's opener, powering into the box and winning a penalty only for David Beckham to miss. Silvestre was no stranger to the Croxteth kid's strength and pace. 

Those in the crowd at Goodison Park in February last season will remember him giving the Frenchman and Wes Brown nightmares at the back. Coming on for Steve Watson at half-time, Rooney's movement and directness helped Everton pull three goals back in torrential rain, only for Ruud to snatch the winner in injury time. 

“I was gutted about that,” admits Wayne. David Moyes must have given your team a roasting at half-time? You came out like a different team... “I don't know, I was outside warming up because he told me to get stripped ‘cos I was coming on,” he says. “Whenever I'm on the bench I'm always looking at the defenders and trying to spot weaknesses. I never doze off!”
The manner of his performance that day was certainly not lost on Sir Alex and the several thousand Reds who thought he would spoil their afternoon. 

“I've known his potential for a long time, but the way he has played in the last three years has been phenomenal,” said Sir Alex. The Gaffer admitted on the day of Rooney's unveiling at a packed press conference that he had tried to entice the young striker to Old Trafford after he'd given United's youth side the run around. “I got a call from our staff saying they'd seen a player and I should do something about it,” recalls Sir Alex. “He didn't want to leave Everton, but we showed interest even then, at 14.”

“I did get told about it,” says Rooney, “but I think I was too young and wanted to play for Everton then. Now I'm really looking forward to playing here, especially against the best players in Europe.”

Did the shouts of ‘Fat Boy what's the score?’ in the earlier 3-2 encounter at Old Trafford last season hit a nerve and spur him on to produce his best at Goodison in the corresponding fixture? 

“Yes, I remember the stick I got,” he laughs. “But it was the same at most grounds I played at. I know that when I go back to play Everton I will get the same stuff shouted at me. It happens; that's football.”

Does it bother you at all? “No, I just laugh at it. It's just the fans being football fans. I would do the same if I was still in the crowd.”
Behind the scenes of Rooney’s arrival Video

Behind the scenes of Rooney’s arrival

MUTV ARCHIVE | When these signing shots were captured in 2004, Wayne was an 18-year-old with the world at his feet…

Forget the negative press headlines about his personal life and the controversy surrounding his transfer from his boyhood club, Wayne Rooney is a modern-day fairy tale. Cinderella with football boots and a snarl. And now with devil's horns to match. Working-class lad from tough estate in Croxteth comes good, shows he's England's best player on the European stage and leaves his hometown team for the biggest club in the world. Such a lot has happened to the teenager with the mature physique and boyish looks since he was a kid at De La Salle Comprehensive, sitting at the back of the class dreaming of playing for Everton.

Wayne admits that he doesn't know what he would have done if he hadn't made it as a pro. “I've not a clue,” he admits. “All I ever wanted to do was play football. That's all I was ever focused on.”

Wayne could not wait for the bell to ring so he could shoot off to training or home for a kick-about by the garages behind his house. “The press said I used to ride my BMX to training after school but I never even had a bike,” laughs Wayne. “I used to get a lift off my dad!”

The youngster was never seen without a ball. “I was forever practising with my mates. It's not just natural ability. We used to play round the back of the house by some garages and use one as a goal. We'd all take a turn in goal and play until it was dark. That definitely helped me a lot.”

All the practice paid off as scout and family friend Bob Pendleton took him to Goodison when he was just nine, convinced he had found a player with special ability. “Wayne was born to score goals,” he said. The youngster made rapid progress through the junior ranks and Blues that watched him star in the FA Youth Cup were already raving about him. Even Walter Smith, then in charge at Everton, tried to give Rooney his debut when he was still at school. 

“Moyesy gave me my debut, but Walter tried to put me on the bench against Arsenal when I was just 15,” says Rooney. “My name was down on the team-sheet but I think the FA stopped him. I was gutted as I'd told my friends and family. Still, I suppose I didn't have to wait that long.” Rooney made his debut against Southampton in August just two years ago in a 2-2 draw against Southampton. Yet it was a dazzling finish at Goodison on 19 October that first propelled his name into the nation's consciousness. The 16-year-old thumped home that dipping, curling wonder-goal from outside the box against Arsenal, ending their 30-game unbeaten run. Rooneymania had begun. 

A statue of Rooney at Old Trafford? Video

A statue of Rooney at Old Trafford?

What do Rio and Wayne think about the Old Trafford regeneration project, and could there be a new statue? Take a look...

Two months after David Elleray sent Rooney off for the first time in a Boxing Day match against Birmingham, he became England's youngest ever debutant against Australia. “The whole family is absolutely delighted for Wayne,” said dad Wayne Senior, who was watching his eldest with wife Jeanette and sons Graham and John. “Obviously I am a very proud dad. Playing for England has always been his dream.”

Wayne followed his debut with more impressive displays for club and country, including four goals in Portugal during the Euro 2004 championships. His performances convinced Sir Alex that he needed the striker, even if it meant making him the club's most expensive forward. United agreed to pay £20million for the 18-year-old, with that sum rising to £27million depending on appearances and achievements, in a six-year deal. But it was a transfer that may not have happened so soon, if at all, had Newcastle not triggered events by bidding for the youngster first. 

“The vibes I was getting from David Moyes at the end of last season were that he wasn't for sale,” said Sir Alex. “But once we knew Everton were talking to another club, we had to do something. I think it was a case that Manchester United could not afford to miss out on him.”

Rooney isn't fazed by the amount of money paid for him. He just shrugs his shoulders and flashes another cheeky smile when asked how it feels to be the world's most expensive teenager. “Yes, it’s a lot of money but I don’t really think about it. Hopefully I’m worth it,” says Rooney, with a steely blue-eyed stare. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself and my ability. Just because Everton will get more money if I do well won’t affect how I play for United. When I go out on the pitch I am always 100 per cent committed. I want to win trophies. That’s why I’m here.”

Wayne admits it wasn’t easy asking to leave Everton. He and his family have been Blues all their lives, while David Moyes said he wanted to make him Everton’s skipper when he turned 20. “It was probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” he says, “but I wanted to leave to further my career and play at a higher level. A few of the England lads had been saying I should come and join their club but I’d made my mind up that I wanted to play for United if I had the chance. I told Moyesy and the chairman first as soon as I got back from my holiday. They didn’t go mad, I think they were expecting it.

“Everton have been brilliant to me and it would have been the easy option to stay there, but not everything in life is easy. I will always want to know the Everton result after I’ve played. Hopefully they can win… most matches.”
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...

Such little adjustments, and his growing confidence in front of the cameras, are signs of Rooney’s increasing maturity. Those who watched the press conference announcing his move will have been impressed with his honesty and composure when questions were being fired at him from all sides. 

“Since I’ve started playing football I’ve matured a lot, especially in the last 18 months,” says Wayne. “I think you have to when you’re a professional footballer. Before the European Championships I did a lot of press so I’m getting more used to the attention. Sometimes I enjoy it. I’ve not got a problem with it. Being in the public eye doesn’t get me down.”

Big things are expected of the Liverpudlian. Some have criticised his return of 15 goals in 67 Premiership appearances for Everton since his debut against Tottenham in August 2002. Others have tagged him a scorer of great goals with the ability to turn matches in a struggling Everton side. The real test, however, will be how he performs surrounded by class players. 

Sir Alex has no doubt that he can have the same galvanising effect on United as his most influential signing of all time, Eric Cantona, while Pele has called Rooney an “exciting talent with composure beyond his years”. “I can see Wayne having the same impact as Eric Cantona had on the team when I signed him,” said Sir Alex. “I am very excited. We have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years. Wayne is not the finished article yet, but he is a fantastic talent and he proved that at Euro 2004. He has marvellous potential.”

“Cantona was a brilliant player,” says Wayne. “It's flattering to be compared to him because of what he achieved, but I've only been playing professionally for two years. I've got to prove who I am. Obviously there's going to be expectations, but I am confident that I can fulfil them.”

With so few Scousers choosing to play for United, Wayne must have wondered what kind of welcome he would get, especially with the historic rivalry between the two cities. “Yes I did wonder but thankfully it was good and the fans seemed to take to me,” says Rooney. “It was nice to see them outside Old Trafford waiting to see me after I'd signed, shouting my name and saying I'd made the right decision. Having the England lads like Scholesy and the Nevilles has helped me settle in, too. But I'm fed up talking about it now, I just want to start playing for United, get out there on the pitch and get my first goal.”

Rooney says his first target is to get in the team and keep his place, but he accepts he may have to be on the bench as part of his development at Old Trafford. “If I'm not playing well then I can't have any complaints if I'm not in the team,” he says. “My aim is to get a regular place in the side. I'm only 18 and have still got a lot to prove and learn, but there's no better place to do it than here.

“I want to get some silverware this season. There's no reason why we can't win the European Cup with the squad we've got. Manchester United is a massive club and I hope I can stay here for the rest of my career.”

Legendary goalscorers on MUTV:

  • All The Goals: Dimitar Berbatov Video

    All The Goals: Dimitar Berbatov

    Here's 56 reasons why United fans loved Berba during his four-year stint at Old Trafford...

  • All The Goals: Dwight Yorke Video

    All The Goals: Dwight Yorke

    All The Goals | Dwight Yorke made history as a United player, scoring 66 times and smiling throughout it all...

  • All The Goals: Eric Cantona Video

    All The Goals: Eric Cantona

    Watch all 82 of Eric Cantona's goals for United during his unforgettable reign at Old Trafford...

  • All The Goals: Mark Hughes Video

    All The Goals: Mark Hughes

    All The Goals | Mark Hughes scored 163 times across two spells at United - watch them all in order here...

  • All The Goals: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Video

    All The Goals: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

    All The Goals | As we wish Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a happy birthday, celebrate by enjoying all 126 of his United goals...

  • All The Goals: Robin van Persie Video

    All The Goals: Robin van Persie

    All The Goals | Watch all of Robin van Persie's finishes from his incredibly popular spell as a United player...

  • All The Goals: Ruud van Nistelrooy Video

    All The Goals: Ruud van Nistelrooy

    All The Goals | Watch Ruud van Nistelrooy's 150 United finishes to remind yourself of his greatness...

  • All The Goals: Zlatan Ibrahimovic Video

    All The Goals: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

    Watch every goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's brilliant 2016/17 season at United...