When England wonderboy Wayne Rooney hobbled off the turf at Munich’s Allianz Arena back in March, his native England held its collective breath. This was a potential disaster.
Rooney’s ankle injury late in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final between Manchester United and host Bayern Munich had all of England fretting about the country’s World Cup aspirations in South Africa. Without Rooney, most figured the dream was crushed.
Ignoring predictions that he would be out for weeks, even months, Rooney was back in the Man U. lineup a week later, igniting sighs of relief by England fans from London to Liverpool.
Make no mistake. Sure, the England lineup is a star-studded cast, one filled with famous names like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
But without Rooney in the lineup, even his England teammates wondered about their chances.
Said Gerrard: “I think it is impossible to have a good World Cup without Wayne.”
Luckily they won’t have to find out.
Rooney is back at full speed for England heading into its highly-publicized South Africa 2010 opener against the United States on June 12. And if opposing teams don’t find a way to contain the gifted striker, the prospect of seeing him lead England to the final for the first time since 1966 is not far fetched by any means.
Rooney arguably enjoyed his finest season with Manchester United in 2009-10, making him a strong candidate along with favourite Lionel Messi for FIFA player of the year honours.
South Africa will provide the perfect setting for Rooney to make amends for the brain cramp he suffered during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
In the midst of the quarter-final match against Portugal, Rooney was sent off for stomping on Ricardo Carvalho, leaving England to finish the game with 10 men. England subsequently was defeated on penalty kicks, causing despondent English supporters to wonder what might have been.
“I’ve always said and I still say that I never meant to stamp on him but when I watch it, it does look like I made a stamp,” Rooney said.
Four years later Rooney seems to be much more mature. He did not receive a single yellow card in England’s nine World Cup qualifying matches, a great omen for England in South Africa.
And a bad sign for the opposition.
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THE ROONEY FILE
Name: Wayne Rooney, 24
Club Team: Manchester United
International Resume: 57 caps, 25 goals.
Did you know?: Rooney, who became a father for the first time this year, comes from a family of amateur boxers. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?