Wayne Rooney: The making of a legend

Today, Wayne Rooney turns 21. But at the age when most people are setting out on their careers, the young god of English football has already achieved greatness. What is the secret of this extraordinary prodigy? Those who were alongside him when he was growing up share their memories - and relive the moment they realised that a genius was in their midst
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The Independent Online

Rooney at 8

By Bob Pendleton, the Everton scout who discovered Wayne Rooney

I vividly remember the first day I saw young Wayne. It was at the Long Lane playing fields in Liverpool, pitch two. I was the secretary of the Walton and Kirkdale junior league (I still am), and I had to go to have a word with Copplehouse Colts, because they hadn't paid their referees' fees of £4.50. I was talking to their manager, Big Nev, when I noticed this little striker trying something different every time he touched the ball.

When he got the ball, the ball became his, and when he gave it away he expected it back. He was eight and everyone else was 10, which wouldn't be allowed now, but he was scoring goals for fun. Big Nev was devastated when I asked about the boy, because he had turned their season around and he didn't want to lose him, not even to Everton. Fortunately, Wayne's mum and dad were watching so I invited them to bring their son to Bellefield, Everton's training ground, later that week. A scout always hopes the parents support the team he works for and it turned out that big Wayne and Jeanette were massive Evertonians. They were delighted when I invited them to Bellefield. We were in.

Before they arrived on the Thursday night I went to see Ray Hall, the youth academy director at Everton, and asked him to sign this eight-year-old on the spot. Ray hadn't seen him play, but he showed a lot of trust in me and when Wayne showed up with his dad he made a huge fuss of them.

They went to Ray's office. I remember big Wayne telling his lad to sit up straight and to make a good impression. Then Ray came in but deliberately left his door open. He was up to something. The next thing Joe Royle, the manager and one of big Wayne's boyhood heroes, walked past and Ray invited him in. Joe was great, really friendly. Then we signed Wayne Rooney.

You hope every lad you bring in makes it, but with young Wayne you immediately knew he had something special. Coaches who'd been around for years were talking about him. Referees would ring me up after games to talk about him, and even older players at Everton were lifted when he trained with them.

I think big Wayne always believed his son would make it. Other dads would stand on the sideline shouting, but Wayne's never did. You would have a laugh with him before kick-off - big Wayne is full of jokes, usually cracking up before he finishes them - but once the game began he'd be totally focused on his son's performance. Jeanette was more protective, but even at eight, Wayne didn't need much protection.

Rooney at 10

By Chris Dagnall, a former team-mate at Liverpool Schoolboys Under-11s, now playing for Rochdale

Wayne stood out even as a 10-year-old. It was hard not to notice him with the number of goals he scored, but it wasn't only the goals that set him apart. He kicked like a man even then. People would say he was a kid in a man's body. This sounds funny now, but he used to say he didn't want to be a footballer when he grew up, he wanted to be a boxer.

Wayne was very easy to get along with, a normal lad, never big-time. There were a lot of scouts at our games and Liverpool kept asking him to sign for them but he always said no because he was such a big Evertonian. Even with all that attention he never thought he was better than anyone else.

I've spoken to Wayne a few times since the Liverpool schoolboy days and it's great to think that a lad from down the road has made it so far. It's unbelievable how far he's gone in such a short time, but I doubt if Wayne has stopped to think about that. He just takes everything in his stride.

Rooney at 10 and 11

By Tim O'Keeffe, former manager of Liverpool Schoolboys, now deputy head at St Paschal Baylon primary school in Liverpool

Wayne played for our Under-11s team. I was aware of him before I had even seen him play. There had been a lot of publicity about him locally. There was an Everton scout at the time called Sid Benson, who still works for the club, who said: "Tim, you are getting a stormer next year."

Normally a boy would have two or three trials, but he needed only one. The qualities he has as a man stood out even then; strength, controlled aggression, pace, the ability to use both feet and to head a ball. He was as near to a complete player as it is possible to be at that age. Before Wayne joined us, the record number of goals in one season was 64. Wayne scored more than 70; his mum and dad say it was 90. Either way, he set a record that stands to this day.

He was very unassuming and quiet. You can't shut some boys up, but he was the opposite and would only speak when spoken to. He always took was said on board.

He could be infuriating at times, not for any disciplinary reasons but from a coaching point of view. One day we were playing at Penny Lane and Wayne broke through on goal. We had three against one but, while the coaches shouted at him to give it wide, some of the parents shouted at him to take the defender on. He did neither. He looked up and chipped the ball into the net from 25 yards. There's no way he should have attempted something as audacious as that, but Wayne had so much belief in his own ability that sometimes you had to forget the coaching book and just admire the skill. A coach said to me once: "You can't coach what God left out." God left nothing out with Wayne.

Rooney at 12

By Brian Moogan, a former Everton Youth team-mate, now playing for the Nationwide Conference North club Vauxhall Motors

I was 13, and I had just finished playing a game for Everton's youth team one Saturday when a few of us decided to stay on and watch the younger lads play. As we reached the side of their pitch, this kid smacked one into the top corner. He was only 12. The next week at training the same player was introduced into our age group. It was Wayne.

My favourite Wayne moment came a few years later against Tottenham in the Youth Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane. We had a free-kick 40 yards from goal and the two of us stood over the ball. I told him to get in the box and I'd whip one in, but he said: "No, I'm going to hit it." I thought he was having a laugh but he was deadly serious. Then he struck the free-kick straight into the wall. Before I could have a go at him, the rebound came back and after taking one touch to control it, he found the top corner from almost the same spot. I was behind the shot all the way and no goalkeeper in the world could have saved it. He shot me a look that said: "I told you."

Before that match, we checked into a hotel and I was paired with Wayne. We were told to relax, so I was just about to get some sleep. Then he reached into his bag and pulled out four packets of Wotsits. This was the biggest game of our lives at this point and he's eating Wotsits. I pointed this out to him but he replied: "It's just a game of footy." Then, when I'd given up trying to sleep because of all the crunching and given him a piece of my mind, he held out the packet and said: "Do you want one?"

We lost the final over two legs to Aston Villa. We all went out after the second leg, and a few people began commiserating with us. We were all talking about the game except Wayne, who just couldn't speak because we had lost. He cared so much, and I remember thinking then that he was something different.

Rooney at 13

By James Potter, a former Everton Youth team-mate, now a student at Liverpool University

We were born one week apart and we both played for teams above our own age group, so we tended to stick together from an early age. I remember the first time I went to his house and thinking that Croxteth resembled what Belfast must have looked like in the 1970s. When I couldn't find the house I asked a few lads where Wayne Rooney lived and they took me straight there. It seemed everyone knew Wayne in Croxteth.

Wherever we went, whether it was to the pictures or just hanging around, Wayne had a ball with him. He'd volley it repeatedly against the sign of the Dog and Gun pub near his house without the ball touching the ground. It was like watching that old footage of Maradona doing keepy-uppy as a kid.

We were always in a strong side at Everton but it was only when Wayne turned 14 that he truly began to excel and outstrip the rest. By the time he was 15 he was playing for the Under-19s, where Colin Harvey would always make sure his feet remained on the ground. He was always careful not to praise him.

One day we were walking off the training ground when the groundsman, Jimmy Ryan, drove by on a tractor. He was about 30 yards away but Wayne put a ball down, said: "Watch this," and drilled it at the side of the cab. The ball flew so close to Jimmy's face that it almost took his glasses off, but it was struck so powerfully that he didn't see it. He just carried on cutting the grass as though nothing had happened. Wayne would often pull stunts like that.

I always think of Wayne when I hear that Ronan Keating song "When You Say Nothing At All". Whenever we were at the back of the team coach he would be there, arms outstretched, singing it at the top of his voice. He was into Irish folk music, too. Once, after a tournament in Switzerland, we were allowed to have a few Cokes at a local disco, and Wayne suddenly jumped on to the dance floor by himself. He started doing star jumps off the stage, spinning a chair around and singing into his shoe.

We went our separate ways when he joined the Everton first team. I always liked Wayne and I felt really comfortable in his company. I don't know if he has changed since he made the move to Manchester United, but the way he's depicted in the media is not how I know him at all. He was confident in his ability, he had something you couldn't coach, but he was never outwardly arrogant and that is a rarity. Wayne, unlike many players of lesser talent, never needed to be the stereotypical, arrogant footballer. He just didn't have that side to him.

Rooney at 14

By Sean Doherty, a former Everton Youth team-mate, now playing for Accrington Stanley

There was a cartoon called Rude Dog on TV when we were at the Everton academy, and I think that's where I got the idea to give him the nickname "Roon Dog". They could both be a bit mad. Whatever the reason, it stuck.

We all knew Wayne would make it, but perhaps not so quickly. It was only when he reached 14 or 15 that he began to stand out as an exceptional talent. He was always thick-set and powerful, but it was not until later on at the academy that he became special. For me, the turning point was an Under-15s game against Birmingham. We were losing 3-0 at half-time, and they brought Wayne on. He was a year younger than the rest of us but he scored four; a header, a tap-in and two strikes from distance.

The following year, at 15, he played for the Under-19s. On his debut, he put one into the top corner from 30 yards. We looked at each other. We couldn't believe it, but he carried on as though it was a normal thing to do.

I played against Wayne for Liverpool and then with him for Everton and England Under-16s. He was always confident in his own ability, but quietly confident. Though a lot of people think he's shy, you wouldn't believe the change in him once you get to know him. I'm sure a lot of people have formed their opinions of him through stories in the papers, but I know him as a genuinely down-to-earth lad. He has come from nothing, he had a hard upbringing, and he deserves all the accolades he receives.

Rooney at 15

By Scott Brown, a former Everton Youth team-mate, now playing for Bristol City

Wayne always came across as shy, but among the lads he would let himself go to the point that he could seem a bit mad at times. He'd sit at the back of our team coach making kestrel noises.

He would score goals from everywhere, but in particular he loved to try to lob the goalkeeper whenever he got the chance. He scored quite a few from around 30 yards. We all knew he was a special talent, but because we were all kids and he was a year younger we didn't think too much about what he could achieve. Plus he was part of a really good age group at Everton.

It was during an FA Youth Cup run that he really started to develop. He seemed to turn into a man overnight and we were left in his shadow. He probably had a part in every goal we scored on the way to the final, either scoring them or making them. There was a free-kick at Tottenham, a goal against Manchester City when he ran from the half-way past about six players and slotted it, and an overhead kick against Nottingham Forest. In every round he seemed to do something incredible.

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