It happens so rarely but when it does you know. You know for certain and you know instinctively.
It is a knowledge accrued from watching so many hours of football that if those hours were lumped together and placed in a pie chart of your life it would make up a sizeable portion rivalling sleep.
On October 19th 2002 a 16-year-old boy from Croxteth scored an absolute belter against Arsenal’s David Seaman at Goodison Park and a star was instantly born.
“Remember the name,” shrieked commentator Clive Tyldesley as the Toffees faithful went absolutely berserk and a lad still too young to drive or vote or drink ran away in celebration. It’s a great line but also a flawed one.
We didn’t need to remember Wayne Rooney for this was a generational talent, already fully formed bar the immaturity of a teenage mind. Generational talents dominate the headlines and a nation’s thoughts; they divide opinion and shoulder our hopes on the international stage and get talked about by relatives who would otherwise struggle to name five Premier League clubs.
Remember him? From the moment the ball left his boot and caressed off the crossbar to make him at the time the top flight’s youngest ever goal-scorer we knew he’d be as famous for the rest of our lives as Prime Ministers and A-list film stars. We knew instinctively and certainly.
If that might seem somewhat premature, even with the benefit of hindsight proving such a lofty claim correct as Rooney went on to win six league titles and a Champions League at club level while becoming England’s record goal-scorer but it should be noted that we – we being the populace who resided outside of Merseyside – were actually playing catch-up.
In Liverpool they were already well-versed in the very special talent emerging through the Everton ranks, for what it’s worth a born and bred Evertonian too.
Archie Knox, who was David Moyes’ assistant at Goodison at the turn of the century, had described Rooney’s displays as a 15-year-old playing in the under 19s set-up as ‘‘Roy of the Rovers’ while the insular world of football also was aware of the one-man tsunami approaching.
Bob Pendleton, the scout who discovered the striker who would later be nicknamed ‘the White Pele’ by future manager Sir Alex Ferguson, relays the reactions of Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat on first witnessing Rooney’s innate brilliance at youth level and it is fair to assume that similar revelations took place on a regular basis. It’s fair to assume whispers of his promise spread like wildfire.
One such early devotee was Ferguson. When Rooney was 14 overtures were made following a recommendation by United’s youth coach Jim Ryan but nothing came of it: “The boy wanted to stay at Everton – at that time he had a love of the club and he’s an Everton fan,” the most successful manager in British football later recalled.
Rooney’s trajectory at Goodison was typically sharp and gob-smacking.
Just three short months after announcing his imminent greatness against Arsenal he won the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award. Two months after that he made his international bow becoming the youngest player to wear three lions on his shirt when he took on Australia in a friendly.
He never once played at any level below: he was thrown in the deep end; introduced at the top because when you know, you know.
At this point there is a reluctance to put up his stats while adorning the royal blue of Everton because they are ordinary whereas his performances – given his tender age – were anything but.
For the record though he scored 15 goals in 67 games. As for his displays there was a rugged maturity coupled with an easy vision and a deftness of touch that amazed from one so inexperienced.
The fans must have been in dreamland with all this. Not only did they possess a storied superstar-in-the-making. He was a local boy too with the club in his bones. In primary school he had written a letter to jailed star Duncan Ferguson.
After scoring in an FA Youth Cup final he famously unveiled a t-shirt declaring ‘Once a blue, always a blue’.
That shirt would come back to haunt him and sooner than maybe he or anybody else thought.
Check out which team have “the best defence in the Premier League” in the video below…
In the summer of 2004 Manchester United made overtures once again only this time they weren’t given short shrift by the player but instead – mere weeks after lighting up the Euros with a series of phenomenal showings – Rooney put in a transfer request.
Ferguson remembers the deal being all-but-concluded after several weeks of back-and-to, not to mention a million speculative headlines when United hosted the Blues in late August, two days before the transfer window ended. “We thrashed out the deal. £27m. 18 years of age.”
If the deal being finalised wasn’t a huge shock considering how long it had dragged on for the move as a whole prompted rancour through the streets of Merseyside.
Paul Stretford, Rooney’s agent, was reported to have received death threats blamed as he was for turning his client’s head. With the deal imminent the teenager was smuggled out of Bellefield – Everton’s training ground – in the boot of his team-mate Alan Stubbs’ car. A nascent love affair was now severed.
On his departure graffiti appeared close to the ground stating: “Rooney could have been a God but he chose to be a Devil”.
On his arrival in Manchester, Ferguson said: “I am very excited. I think we have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years.”
Fifteen years ago on September 1st a transfer took place that shook English football involving a local hero playing for a mid-table side moving to one that chased silverware as the norm.
For those that emitted surprise then or recall it as a surprise now three words harshly but pertinently spring to mind. Remember the game.