As if the prospect of a new beginning for England were not enough to dwell on, tonight carries a more profound significance for Wayne Rooney than for most of those whom Fabio Capello will send out at Wembley.
The meaning of the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster has been demonstrated graphically to United's squad in recent days and Rooney, perhaps more than any of the club's non-Mancunians, has been deeply affected by the DVD of the disaster the players have been shown and by an accompanying talk provided by Sir Bobby Charlton. He says he will carry that into the Switzerland game.
"It will be a big day," Rooney said. "I'm sure something will happen with the Switzerland game in terms of remembering those who lost their lives." The FA has settled on holding a minute's silence at Wembley, after discussions with United, despite fears that some fans may try to sabotage it."The important thing is paying our respects and making sure those who died are remembered," Rooney added.
Comparisons between Rooney and Duncan Edwards – today's great English hope is just a year older than his forerunner was when he died 15 days after the crash – are irresistible, even though Sir Bobby waves away suggestions that Rooney's name can be uttered in the same breath as Edwards' just yet. "It's not even worth mentioning," he says. "We can talk about Wayne Rooney when he's retired."
But Rooney, a player not generally given to making public pronouncements, had more to say than most of his team-mates when asked to talk about Munich recently and that DVD, combined with the huge image of Sir Matt Busby's team lining up before their last game against Red Star Belgrade, which hangs in their Carrington dressing room, has evidently hit a nerve. "It wasn't easy to watch the DVD," he admitted. "It was extremely sad. Obviously, we saw the way they were playing before the disaster and you could see they were a good, young team growing together. It was incredible that the team was playing again [in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday] only two weeks after the crash."
Sir Bobby's influence around Old Trafford seems to be an important one, on a surprising number of levels, for Rooney. "You see him around the club all the time [and] he's really easy to talk to," said Rooney. "You can speak to him about anything: your personal life, your football, anything. Just speaking to him you can see how much he loves the club and how much it means to him. It was fascinating to speak to him about the disaster, hear his story of what happened and learn a bit more about the history of what happened."
Sir Bobby evidently did not pull too many punches about the burden of responsibility the United players carry when he addressed them on Munich at Carrington, a few weeks back. "He put a bit of pressure on us to win [the European Cup]," Rooney said. "It would be a great achievement for us to win [it], not just for ourselves, but for the Busby Babes themselves. He said how fitting it would be."
Rooney seems to appreciate the financial gulf between Edwards' days and his own, but he insisted that their motivations were the same. "To be a footballer, whether it's now, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 50 years ago, is something you just love doing," he said. "Obviously, we get some great rewards [now] and are able to enjoy the finer things in life, but I've said many times that if I wasn't a professional footballer I'd be playing down the park with my mates every weekend. It's something we just love doing.
"I'm sure the players of 50 years ago would have loved to be playing now with everything that comes with the modern game. I'm sure most of them probably could have played in today's game. There's a big responsibility on us as players these days, and we have to try to live up to that responsibility."
For a player whose club manager has told him to relax if he wants to score more goals, there are more than enough reflections to carry into one match.Reuse content