If there is one England footballer who embodies the spirit of Brazilian football, then who is it? Wayne Rooney suggested Joe Cole yesterday, but for many people it would be England's No 10 himself, who has the skill of the men in the yellow shirts and the power that the best Brazilian players always have.
Listening to Rooney discuss England's opposition tomorrow was to hear a young player who is starting to become aware of his own place in the pecking order of world football. He said that if he was to be regarded as one of the greats then he too would have to win a World Cup like Ronaldo (the original one) and Ronaldinho. In typical Rooney-fashion he would not describe them as "heroes", just players that he enjoyed watching.
Tomorrow will be the first time that England's crown-jewel footballer has faced the greatest football nation on earth, having been injured for the friendly at Wembley in June 2007, and it evidently means a lot to him. As far as heroes went, for the young Rooney there was only one team and one player: he loved Duncan Ferguson in his Everton pomp. As for Brazil, this was a team he watched on television who could do things that even "Big Dunc" could not manage.
Rooney picked out a goal that Ronaldo scored for Internazionale against Lazio as one of the best he had ever seen – "four step-overs and he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way". You were reminded of just how young Rooney is that he could not remember any Brazilian footballer before Romario. With this in mind he did not sound like a man who would be taking it easy tomorrow.
"I've always wanted to play against them," he said. "As a football fan, you grow up enjoying watching them play. To have an opportunity to play against them, I'm looking forward to it. They're world-class players, they've proven that and won World Cups. There's still a lot I need to win before I can catch up to those players. If you want to be known and remembered in world football as a [great], you need to be a World Cup winner.
"I don't think I look like a Brazilian although I'm happy when people say I play like a Brazilian because I love the way Brazilians play. But there are other players who are a lot more skilful than me in the England team – like Joe Cole, for example. Joe Cole is more skilful, when you see it. I never really try skills. If it happens in a game, it just happens. I don't really try to be skilful."
As a new father, he has barely paused for breath – and Rooney conceded there was no chance of him taking it easy this season in order to preserve his freshness for the World Cup finals next summer. It will be his 57th cap tomorrow in the Khalifa Stadium in Doha and he is only 24-years-old, currently on a run of 11 goals in 11 games for England. This is a good time for Rooney but for a man who lives in the moment that could change in an instant.
"When the manager [Sir Alex Ferguson] decides to rest me, it's his decision at the end of the day," Rooney said. "There will be games, I'm sure, this season at home, when I'll have the chance to be rested. That's down to the manager. I want to play. But if he rests me, he rests me. There's nothing you can do."
He gave a little insight into the way that Ferguson demands that his team attacks at all times, regardless of the circumstances. You would not have thought that Rooney needed much encouragement. "He [Ferguson] wants you playing attacking football all the time," Rooney said. "Sometimes you feel you can't do it, but he keeps you going. At his age, he still wants to win all the time. That's incredible to see."
There is no doubt that maturity has made him more contemplative of his place in the world. He described Eric Cantona as "fearsome" yesterday – "look at him, and that was just on the television – imagine playing up against him" – in the midst of a discussion about his future at manchester United. As for the story that he might be tempted away by Barcelona, Rooney responded by saying that he expected to sign a new deal soon.
It is anticipated he will sign just as soon as his agent Paul Stretford emerges from his Football Association ban in the new year. "It's nice to be noticed, but I've said before I'm really happy at United. Unless they tell me otherwise, I can't see myself leaving. I've got two years left after this year so, I'm sure, we'll be negotiating a new deal in the next few months. I love the place. It's 30 minutes from home and all my family, and I've got a great chance of winning trophies.
"It's a massive club. Growing up, although I was an Everton fan, I loved watching United play and they won a lot of trophies. Now, to be there, I've won trophies there myself and I want to win more there. I don't think I'll be going anywhere soon."
With United, Rooney has already won the big trophies – three league titles and a Champions League. The one that has eluded English football for the last 43 years would really mark him out as different. "To be up there with the best I'd feel you have to win a World Cup," he said. "There are players like George Best and [Cristiano] Ronaldo who are geniuses. But I, personally, feel like I have to help England win a World Cup to be considered like that."
'I've wanted to change the nappies, but...'
Wayne Rooney has spoken for the first time about his baby son Kai, born 11 days ago, and admitted that he has not yet changed a nappy. "I'm working on it," Rooney said. "To be fair, I've wanted to do it. But she [his wife Coleen] has been there and done it."
Thankfully, Rooney also said that he would not be emulating the naff baby-rocking celebrations pioneered by the Brazilian striker Bebeto to mark the birth of a new child. "It looks a bit cheesy, doesn't it?" Rooney said.
However, Rooney said he had no intention of taking any time off from football – he played for United against CSKA Moscow the day after the birth. "I don't feel any different, to be honest, I just want to play," he said. "When I was sub [against CSKA] last week I had spoken to the manager and asked him if I could play because I didn't want to sit on the bench. I went to see the manager on the morning of the game and asked him if I could play. I found out just before the game that I was on the bench."
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