There are some players who are defined as great goalscorers, whilst others can be described as being scorers of great goals – Wayne Rooney sits among a pantheon of Premier League icons who fall comfortably into both categories.
The latest instalment of our Golazo Merchants series tells the story of Wayne Rooney, arguably the star who created the most excitement as a precocious teenage talent, before establishing himself as the greatest goalscorer in the history of club and country.
Rooney was a player like few ever witnessed in England’s top tier, a devastating all-action forward with a fearless approach and a penchant for the spectacular.
It’s that penchant which we’ve decided to revisit when telling the story of a Scouse superstar:
Everton’s existence in the Premier League had largely been one of much mediocrity throughout the first decade of the rebranded division, the club’s golden period in the eighties becoming a distant memory amid the glitz and glamour of England’s relaunched top tier.
Around the turn of the millennium, however, there was a buzz within Everton circles that was centred around a promising young talent emerging from the club’s academy ranks, a working-class street footballer from a Croxteth council estate.
Rooney had scored over a century of goals in just 29 games for the club’s under-10s and 11s in the mid-nineties and by the age of 15 was representing their under-19 side. He would not have to wait much longer for his first-team bow.
The forward made his senior debut against Tottenham as a 16-year-old in August 2002, before scoring his first goals for the Toffees with a brace against Wrexham in the League Cup in October – becoming Everton’s youngest ever goalscorer in the process.
It would be later that month, five days before his 17th birthday, where Rooney would catapult himself into the consciousness of Premier League fans across the nation.
Reigning champions Arsenal were the visitors to Goodison Park and arrived on Merseyside having compiled a 30-game unbeaten run in England’s top tier, Arsene Wenger’s side a formidable proposition and confident of extending that sequence.
A spirited display from the home side saw Tomasz Radzinksi level for Everton following Freddie Ljungberg’s opener, and with ten minutes remaining David Moyes introduced his teenage talent from the bench.
What followed was a moment that would become legend in the history of the Premier League, as Rooney announced his arrival in stunning style. A hopeful punt forward was plucked out of the air by a sublime touch from the teenager, who span centrally towards a retreating Arsenal defence.
Unopposed by the Gunners’ backline, Rooney took a look up before displaying the self-confidence and quality that would later define him, curling a stunning last-minute winner off the underside of the crossbar and past England number one David Seaman.
Goodison Park erupted as it witnessed the birth of a footballing superstar – “Remember the name: Wayne Rooney!”
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 21, 2019
Rooney’s star continued to rise in the blue of his boyhood club, becoming England’s youngest ever player and goalscorer as the hype built further around a generational talent.
He scored 17 goals in 77 appearances for Everton, but after starring at the 2004 European Championships with four goals, there was a sense the 18-year-old had already outgrown the Merseyside club.
Manchester United won the race for Rooney’s signature and made him the most expensive teenager in footballing history, but any fears that the youngster may be overawed by his big-money move to Manchester were swiftly removed in a devastating debut display.
Turkish side Fenerbahce were the visitors for a Champions League group stage clash under the Old Trafford floodlights, an evening few inside the hallowed ground will ever forget following Rooney’s ruthless performance.
United supporters witnessed a stunning impact from their marquee summer arrival, a bullish man-child who combined flawless technique with an insatiable desire to hassle and harry opposition defenders.
Rooney netted his first goal with a crisp left-footed strike from a Ruud van Nistelrooy through ball, before doubling his account with a drop of the shoulder and rifled right-foot strike from outside the Fenerbahce penalty area.
His dream debut was capped with arguably the pick of the bunch, a fine free-kick into the top corner as the Stretford End celebrated the arrival of their new hero and an emphatic 6-2 victory.
👶 18 years old
🆕 #UCL debut
Wayne Rooney was a special talent ✨ pic.twitter.com/5eEbunNOY1
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 28, 2023
Rooney’s game undoubtedly evolved during his later years but his early seasons saw him become a whirlwind of fight and competitive edge. His will-to-win perfectly fit a United side who had dominated the Premier League era and constantly strived for further success.
Perhaps the most memorable demonstration of the edge on which Rooney played came in a home clash against Newcastle United during his debut season at Old Trafford.
A frustrating afternoon saw the temperamental teenager cut a frustrated figure and he seemed to be heading for a substitution, the riled-up Rooney having been cautioned for a rash challenge on James Milner.
Referee Neale Barry was the victim of the star’s pent-up aggression as he was berated for failing to penalise Alan Shearer’s robust approach, but Rooney’s rage soon turned to the dropping ball following Peter Ramage’s headed clearance.
Without breaking stride Rooney unleashed a volley of maximum violence and venom, the ball rocketing past Shay Given to bring the scores level as United came from behind to seal victory.
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 29, 2016
The version of Rooney who hurtled round Premier League pitches with a Hulk-like aggression subsided somewhat as he matured as a player, though his penchant for the spectacular failed to leave a forward who became just the second in the division’s history to reach 200 top-flight goals.
Indiscretions both on and off the field saw the halo slip from England’s boy wonder, but he never lost his ability to influence proceedings on the biggest of stages – scoring arguably the defining goal of his career amid the hostility of the Manchester derby.
An emerging City side were beginning to show signs of significant progress when they headed across Manchester during the title run-in of 2011, with United needing to win to stay top of the division as they sought to reclaim the Premier League crown.
David Silva’s equaliser had looked like rescuing a point for Roberto Mancini’s men after Nani’s initial opener, before Rooney rose to the occasion in stunning style with a piece of genuine genius.
After Nani’s cross deflected behind the United number ten, Rooney improvised with a breathtaking piece of athleticism, executing a perfect overhead kick which flew past the helpless Joe Hart.
Rooney raced to the corner of the famous old ground and lapped up the adulation of the Red Devils’ support – his moment of magic keeping United top of the division as a record 19th title was secured under Sir Alex Ferguson.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 5, 2019
There seemed no type of goal absent from Rooney’s repertoire of great strikes, including two later Golazos against West Ham, a side who sit second among the star’s list of preferred Premier League opponents.
His first wonder-goal against the Hammers came during a clash at Upton Park in 2014, where under the watchful eye of former United favourite David Beckham, Rooney scored a long-range stunner which evoked memories of Beckham’s brilliance at Wimbledon.
Presented with a bouncing ball just inside the West Ham half, Rooney’s vision spotted goalkeeper Adrian some distance off his line. Without hesitation, the United captain fired an exquisite lobbed finish towards the Hammers’ goal, the Spanish shot-stopper bemused as the effort dipped over his head and into the goal.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 28, 2018
Half-way line goals are a rarity in football and the audacity to even attempt such an effort is commendable, though we doubt West Ham were in the mood for applause after watching Rooney execute another long-range strike against them.
Rooney called time on a Manchester United career that saw him score 253 goals in all competitions to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton as their all-time record goalscorer, rejoining boyhood side Everton on a free transfer in 2017.
The veteran spent just a single season back on Merseyside but scored a respectable ten league goals, the highlight a hat-trick against the Hammers that added yet another wonder goal to his ever growing collection.
Rooney scored twice in the first-half before completing his treble in sensational fashion, hitting a first-time effort from inside his own half after Joe Hart’s mis-hit clearance.
The forward described the strike as among the best of his illustrious career, the sweetest strike of a football to mercilessly punish the stranded shot-stopper.
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 26, 2020
Rooney headed to MLS after that single season return to Goodison and left as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever players, where he is one of just three players to reach 200 goals and one of just three to register a century of both goals and assists.
He claimed every major honour available during a record-breaking career at Manchester United, including winning five league titles and the Champions League among his extensive collection of silverware.
It seems an odd narrative considering Rooney’s record-breaking achievements, but there remains a sense the forward failed to reach his true potential, his failure to reach the unprecedented heights of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo often used as a stick with which to beat him with.
Rooney’s scintillating emergence and subsequent career of both longevity and success deserves to be ranked alongside the very best the Premier League has witnessed. He was a star among the finest footballers of his generation and a true Golazo Merchant.