Rooney begins his journey from boy wonder to man of the world

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The Independent Football

Until yesterday, the City of Manchester Stadium had not been the happiest of places for Wayne Rooney. Three weeks ago he was in the Everton team who ended their sorry season there with a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City.

Until yesterday, the City of Manchester Stadium had not been the happiest of places for Wayne Rooney. Three weeks ago he was in the Everton team who ended their sorry season there with a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City.

Then, last Tuesday, the hyperactive teenager endured a less than distinguished evening in the former Commonwealth Games stadium, drawing attention to his combustible tendency with a petulant swing of the arm that ought to have earned a yellow card and attracting critical comment for failing to repeat his boy-wonder deeds of some time ago and playing as lethargically as the withering red-shirted souls of seniority surrounding him.

Perspective has seldom been balanced for the Croxteth wunderkind since he burst on to the Premiership scene as a swaggering, overgrown 16-year-old and rampaged through to senior international level at the age of 17. Only last week Zico was quoted as saying that Rooney could be "as big as Pele". In the aftermath of a 1-1 draw against Zico's Japan, from which few England players emerged with credit, he was portrayed as being as big as Pele in latter-day girth size alone and of being, at 18 years of age, a fading - if volatile - force.

As he returned to England duty in the east end of Manchester yesterday, one might have wondered what the poor kid was making of it all - had his feet not seemed planted so reassuringly on terra firma when he was wheeled out to face the press on Friday. "There's no pressure, really, going out to play for your country," he insisted. "There's a lot of worse things you could be doing. I think any 18-year-old in the world would want to swap with what I'm doing now."

While the 18-year-olds of England's north-west went about their normal Saturday business, Rooney got to grips with his 13th appearance in senior international football. It proved to be a highly profitable afternoon for him.

With just the 45 minutes to press his claims for a starting place against France in the Stadium of Light a week tonight, there was an urgent need to impress and a first few leaden touches hardly helped the young Merseysider get into his stride. One stray pass even set Heidar Helguson on his way toward the England goal. Still, true to character, he stuck gamely to his task, and as the half-hour mark approached, the boy Rooney came gloriously good.

With one purposeful swing of his right boot, Gary Neville's neat cut-back was summarily despatched into the back of the Iceland net. It was the simplest of finishes and utterly clinical, the young Evertonian's fourth goal for England. The fifth was not long in coming. It was an absolute cracker.

A lay-back from Paul Scholes and another swing of that right boot, this time from 25 yards, and the ball flew into the back of Arni Arason's net. It was as striking as the Rooney goal that hallmarked his starring role in the 2-0 win against Leichtenstein at Old Trafford in September, which until yesterday had been England's most recent success.

All of which bodes well for the growing boy wonder and for England's prospects in Portugal. There was even a clean sheet to report on the disciplinary front as Rooney managed to keep his temper on a tight leash.

In fact England's number nine has yet to be booked on international duty. In the club season that has just ended he did gain more bookings (11) than goals (nine), but was never sent off.

Indeed, Rooney's only red card dates back to Boxing Day 2002, for a lunging tackle on Steve Vickers at St Andrews. Instead of comparisons with Pele, who was a World Cup winner at the age of 17, perhaps they should be made with Stanley Matthews, Gary Lineker or those other gentlemen of the game who were never booked in an England shirt.

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