Rooney's field day: his temper restrained, his talent unchained

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The Independent Football

By all accounts, in Tiger Tiger last Monday night he was not so much burning bright as incandescent with rage. Across Manchester at Old Trafford yesterday, Wayne Rooney was at his smouldering best. Prowling his home turf with menace but marked restraint, the Croxteth predator was at the heart of the English mauling of Northern Ireland.

He might have endured a sixth successive goalless game for his country, but England's 19-year-old No 9 was instrumental in all four of their goals. With 10 minutes remaining, he made way for Jermain Defoe to a standing ovation. He also departed the field with a pristine disciplinary record for the day.

For all that his short fuse has become such a national issue, Rooney has largely managed to refrain from igniting it while going about his professional duties with his natural edge of raw aggression. Since bursting on to the Premiership scene as a swaggering 16-year-old, he has drawn just the one red card - for a lunging tackle on Steve Vickers at St Andrews on Boxing Day 2002 - although he was retrospectively found guilty of having committed violent conduct last Boxing Day, after video evidence of a hand pushed into the face of Bolton's Tal Ben Haim at Old Trafford.

In the international arena, the Rooney disciplinary record has been even more impressive. In 21 England appearances up to yesterday, his one blemish had been a yellow card against Switzerland in Coimbra last June. And on the occasion of his 22nd cap he was the epitome of restraint, concentrating his efforts on prising openings in the green defensive wall, with the exception of one semi-slip from the leash: a two-footed challenge on Jeff Whitley on the half-way line five minutes before the interval.

That unpunished blemish apart, there was no threat of the Rooney rag being lost in the (alleged) manner that drew the amateur psychologists out of the woodwork last week - with their fears of the Liverpudlian boy wonder being in grave danger of following in the footsteps of Paul Gascoigne by throwing his career down the drain. While Sir Alex Ferguson remains his boss at Old Trafford, though, there would appear to be a greater chance of him channelling his natural exuberance into his daily work in the manner of Roy Keane.

Comparisons with Gascoigne are natural, if somewhat premature. The clowning Geordie was 21 when he made his international debut. Seven months short of his 20th birthday, Rooney is already a veteran of 22 caps. He also happens to be just the one goal short of double figures in the scoring department - and the grand total of 10 that Gascoigne managed in his 57-cap career.

If Rooney has given Sven Goran Eriksson cause for concern of late, it is not so much his keeping of the same early morning drinking hours as Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and Roy Carroll - or his spiky temperament - as the drought he has endured in front of goal for England. The rampaging teenager who threatened to burst the net every time he got the ball at his feet in Euro 2004 has fired blanks in his last six internationals. His most recent goal for England was the second of his brace in the 4-2 beating of Croatia on 21 June.

It took a brilliant save by Maik Taylor and the goalkeeper's right-hand post to keep Rooney off the score-sheet in the first-half yesterday - with a cushioned header and the first of two right-foot piledrivers. It was as a prompter, however, that the £28m teenager showed his worth. Dropping deep from the nominal clutches of Aaron Hughes, he fed Joe Cole and Michael Owen into early scoring positions and never stopped with his often sublime one-touch scheming.

It was Rooney's attacking thrust that led to the opener for Cole in the 47th minute and he had a foot in the three further England goals that followed in the ensuing quarter-of-an-hour. There was a neat return pass to Frank Lampard en route to Michael Owen's goal; some deft footwork and a rolled ball into the goalmouth for Chris Baird's own-goal; and an invitation pass for Lampard's deflected long-ranger

Having burned so brightly in the Mancunian clubs of the night, England's young lion glowed magnificently in the afternoon light at Old Trafford yesterday.

'He's learned football isn't only about tricks'

We played well in the first half. We didn't score, but we had a lot of chances. We scored early in the second half and then life became very difficult for Northern Ireland. We're becoming better and better at keeping the ball. I was very pleased with that today. We kept the ball well and it was a very professional performance.

England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.

It could have been six or seven.

England's captain, David Beckham.

If he goes on like this, no doubts at all. He was excellent today and I don't think he ever lost the ball in a stupid way like in the past. His talent is incredible. He beats people, he scores goals. He has finally learned that football is not only about making tricks. It is about choosing when to do it and when not to do it.

Eriksson on Joe Cole.

It was nice to get the goal and show the boss I could be disciplined and keep the shape. I'm not going to get carried away, though; it was a good performance from the lads but there's a game on Wednesday [against Azerbaijan], and in football things can turn round in a second. But I'm going to enjoy the rest of the day, it's been a good win for England.

Joe Cole.

We were winded at 1-0 but we certainly weren't out, but the body language of the players was 'Here we go again, we're not going to score two goals'. That's something we have to address, a mentality I have to change in the players.

Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Ireland manager, admits to a fall-out from their recent two year goal drought.

I owe Jose Mourinho a lot. Chelsea is a great club to be at and I am just delighted he has shown great faith in me and taught me a lot of lessons.

Joe Cole

It's just like watching Brazil!

Northern Ireland supporters' chant whenever their team strung together more than three passes.