As he strolled into the Football Association's media centre in Bühlertal, Wayne Rooney might have been tempted to utter those immortal words it was claimed he said when he returned to Germany from his definitive scan on 7 June with a clean bill of health. "The big man's back in town," was Rooney's alleged opening gambit when he was re-united with his team-mates at their hotel, and yesterday the big man gave his first account of the agony of his injury - and his remarkable return to fitness.
On his own up front was where Sven Goran Eriksson asked Rooney to play against Ecuador and he thrived there, but on his own up in front of the press the 20-year-old feels a lot less comfortable. He barely cracked a smile, only grinning when asked if he really did deliver the "big man" line (he did not answer), and was acutely aware that his words had to be weighed carefully not to affect the delicate state of relations between Manchester United and the FA.
Discussion of his club's role in his return to fitness were strictly off-limits although Rooney did say that he had been in contact with Sir Alex Ferguson during the past month - the United manager tends to call his players when they are in international tournaments. "He just wishes me luck, he's been very supportive from day one," Rooney said. "He's always wanted me to play in the World Cup and he's really happy for me. Hopefully it will make me a better player for Manchester United because of the experience of playing in a tournament like this."
Although Rooney admitted vaguely at one point that there had been a time when he had feared he may not play in Germany, as he discussed his recovery it became clear that this was a young man who had made up his mind that he would be back in time. He said that he had ceased to feel any pain in the fourth metatarsal of his right foot two weeks after 29 April - the day he broke it - and from then on he knew he was getting better quickly.
His knowledge of the minutiae of the injury was impressive, originally he said that the doctor had told him he had broken his toe but on the X-ray "nothing showed up". "I had to go for a scan, it was only a small break and the doctor told me, if I worked hard, it would heal," Rooney added. "It has done, I stayed positive and always believed I'd play in the World Cup. It's healed. The thought never entered my mind that I wouldn't be here.
"I'm a positive person, I don't let things get me down. Alan Smith was in every day doing the same thing. We were working together and I think that probably helped me because it would have been a lot harder on my own. Most of the lads in the England squad rang me to see how I was, it was nice they all cared and they all wished me good luck and a speedy recovery."
Putting it bluntly, in the immediate aftermath of the break at Stamford Bridge, Rooney said that his mind was not on the World Cup - "we'd just lost the league that day". But in the coming weeks of rehabilitation, he credited Smith, who broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in February, and the United fitness coach Mike Clegg, for helping him to recover from his second broken metatarsal in two years. "While I was injured people might have thought I was just sitting around doing nothing, but I was training, I was doing everything I could to keep myself fit," Rooney said. "A lot of people didn't see that so they might have thought I was doing nothing. Since I came back, I've felt good. Since I've moved from Everton to Manchester United my fitness has gone a lot better, better than it was in Portugal two years ago."
It was Portugal's Jorge Andrade who stamped on Rooney's foot in the Estadio da Luz two years ago, to end his involvement in Euro 2004, and it was Chelsea's Paulo Ferreira who was tussling with him when he broke his toe at Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese have already played a significant part in Rooney's short career ahead of England's World Cup quarter-final meeting with them in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday.
At Euro 2004, a stricken Rooney watched England's defeat on penalties in the team hotel with his agent Paul Stretford and his girlfriend Coleen McLoughlin. He has already missed out on what should have been the most significant stage of his England career and, listening to him yesterday, it seemed fanciful he would ever allow a minor injury to prevent him from coming back. He said: "I've just been thinking about coming back and playing, but when there was football on the telly it was horrible to watch, I just wanted to be playing."
Rooney was uncomfortable with the suggestion that he, above anyone, makes the England team serious contenders for the World Cup and listed Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard as "players who can take the game by the scruff of the neck".
There was genuine boyish enthusiasm about taking part in his first World Cup and, as he talked about the tournament, a smile of anticipation flickered across his face. It was as if he had just remembered that the Portugal match was just a couple of days away. "I feel excited about playing in the World Cup and I'd like the games to come round quicker if anything," he said. "You need the rest, but I just want the games to come. It's brilliant to be here, when you go to the games you see all the fans outside and the atmosphere is fantastic."
Despite punching the dug-out following his substitution against Sweden last week, Rooney said that he held no fears about the dubious quality of the football England had played so far. There was a caustic aside at the Press who, he said, were "building it up saying we are not playing well". "If we keep winning I don't see a problem. We seem happy as a team. Fans are happy we are winning games, look at any other country getting to the quarter-finals: everyone's happy."
This team was, Rooney said, better than the one which England took to Euro 2004 and the lone striker's role in a 4-5-1 formation, he added, was not a problem for him. In fact, by the time he had finished Rooney had relaxed considerably - enough for this young man with the assassin's stare to eulogise two of his fellow professionals. Zinedine Zidane, he said, was "brilliant against Spain" and he despaired of the criticism that the Frenchman and Ronaldo had attracted - "it's embarrassing because they are both world-class players".
For a man of Rooney's self-belief, dishing out that kind of praise is rare. Just one more question: did he have an Uncle Martin in Bremen? The answer was "No" and, with that, the big man left the building.Reuse content