Resolute Rooney determined to enjoy World Cup
After two forgettable experiences at previous World Cups, England talisman Wayne Rooney has vowed to enjoy himself at the 2014 tournament in Brazil regardless of the outcome.
Having injured himself ahead of his maiden tournament in Germany in 2006, the Manchester United striker was sent off for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho as England went out on penalties in the quarter-finals.
In 2010 he went to South Africa on the back of the most prolific season of his career, but again failed to impress, snarling at a television camera after England’s 0-0 group-stage draw with Algeria and drifting through the 4-1 humiliation by Germany in the last 16 like a ghost.
Four years on he remains without a World Cup goal to his name, but ahead of England’s opening Group D match against Italy in Manaus on Saturday, the 28-year-old is determined to relish the experience.
“I’ve learnt to enjoy this one because I haven’t enjoyed the last ones,” Rooney told a group of journalists at England’s seaside training base in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
“All of a sudden you’re looking back and they’ve gone and I didn’t enjoy it. This one, I’m going to enjoy it regardless of what happens. I’m going to make sure I take positive memories from this one.”
Rooney cites the 2004 European Championship in Portugal, when he burst onto the international scene, as the last tournament where he felt relaxed enough to fully express himself.
Scholes comments sting
In current colleagues such as 20-year-old Ross Barkley and 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, he sees glimpses of his own old fearlessness.
“That’s the good thing about the younger lads in the squad: you can see that in them, in Ross and Raheem,” said the stocky forward, who scored seven goals for England in qualifying.
“You can see that there’s no fear with them. They’ll be good players, big players for us.”
Rooney’s explosion as an 18-year-old at Euro 2004 sparked expectations that he would develop into one of the world’s greatest players, but for all his achievements with United, he continues to face criticism.
His old club-mate Paul Scholes recently opined that Rooney may have already passed his peak and the former Everton striker seemed hurt that one of his idols had seen fit to question him in such a way.
“I’m sure he’s upset a lot of people at Man United because they see me as worthy of signing a new deal at the club, so they obviously have got a different opinion to what Paul has,” said Rooney, who branded the remarks “very strange”.
“But you’ll have to ask him. He’s been a great player at Man United, but I’ve never had his phone number and he’s never had mine.
“He’s probably the best player I’ve ever played with, so I’m not going to knock him as a player, but I don’t agree with his point.”
‘Lift the fans’
Rooney was one of few United players to find form during a disastrous 2013-14 season and he feels that a pre-season pep talk with former manager David Moyes helped him rediscover some of his famous fire.
“He felt I had lost a bit of aggression out of my game – which I was asked to do, by the way. He said he wanted me to find that aggression back,” Rooney said of Moyes, who was sacked by United in April.
“I thought about it a lot. It wasn’t really me. Maybe there are times when you have to try and lift the crowd with a tackle – obviously not a stupid one, but a run back and tackle can lift the fans and even turn a game round.”
While Rooney has never threatened to win the Ballon d’Or, he says that unlike his former United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, a two-time winner of the award, notions of legacy do not inspire him.
“I’m not a player who needs that,” he said.
“Like Cristiano Ronaldo, he has to have that and you admire him for having that. You can see how he is. He wants his moments. It’s more important for me to win trophies as a team.”
Reminded that he won nothing with United last season, he replied with a smile: “No, so hopefully I can do that now.”