Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Wayne Rooney: a fiery mixture of temper and talent


Wayne Rooney could become England's greatest all-time soccer player. Then again, he could wind up a bust long before he's 30.

There seems to be no in between for Rooney, who turned 21 yesterday. The jury's still out on how good -- or disappointing -- the England and Manchester United striker will be.

The pug-faced son of an amateur boxer has been making headlines for four years since he scored a stunning Premier League goal at age 16.

Playing for Everton in October 2002 against an Arsenal team which had not lost in 30 games, Rooney collected the ball wide on the left, pushed it into space 10 yards outside the area and launched a shot that flew into the roof of the net with such power and accuracy that even a goalkeeper with the experience of David Seaman had no chance of getting his hands on it.

It was one of those "wow" moments associated with the kings of the game.

If Rooney had the ability to score goals like that as a raw teenager, what would he be like at 26? Four years later, no one knows.

Sadly for those hoping he would lift soccer's ailing image, the other side of Rooney wasn't far behind that sensational goal.

Two months later, he became the youngest ever player sent off in a Premier League game when he was ejected for a lunging tackle on Birmingham defender Steve Vickers. The same day, his record as the league's youngest scorer was beaten -- by 72 days -- by Leeds United's James Milner.

The problem with Rooney is that running alongside his rich talent is a bubbling, volcanic temper that frequently boils over.

Playing for England in a 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland, his rage erupted after he was shown a yellow card which ruled him out of the next qualifying game for the 2006 World Cup.

When England captain David Beckham went over to try to calm him down, Rooney responded with a stream of expletives. That volatility has exploded several times and led to red cards.

Rooney has acknowledged the problem and says he is doing his best to keep a lid on it. But a calm, low-key Rooney isn't necessarily much use on the soccer field.

Rooney needs that fire to light up his talent.

After transferring from Everton in 2004, Rooney marked his debut for Manchester United and first appearance in the Champions League by scoring three times in a 6-2 victory over Turkish club Fenerbahce. He scored top-quality volleys against Middlesbrough and Newcastle in the same season when almost all Rooney's goals seemed to be candidates for awards.

At the start of last season, Rooney appeared to be playing better than ever, scoring regularly and setting up goals.

He showed his full repertoire of talents -- dribbling past defenders, shooting from long range, winning balls in the air, finding teammates with passes from all parts of the field and chasing back and tackling.

But Rooney is far from the perfect article and has shown he has problems getting his form back after long, frustrating spells on the sidelines.

When he broke a bone in his foot near the end of last season, Rooney's chances of playing at the World Cup were thrown into doubt.

Although the bone healed quicker than expected, he was rushed back into training as the team left for Germany and, when he was sent out to play, clearly was well short of match sharpness.

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