“Thomas and Wayne, they were shooting fireworks at each other,” recalled David Moyes, on another crazy day at Everton’s Bellefield training ground. “They had big rockets full of gunpowder, they were holding one end and shooting them at each other.”
When Wayne Rooney broke into the Toffees first-team in 2002, he was living the dream. The boyhood Blue was immersed in the world of professional football at his club but still with all the mischief of a schoolboy - after all, he was one. Whether it was pyrotechnics with Thomas Gravesen (seriously!) or having a kickabout with his mates on the streets of Croxteth, Liverpool after announcing himself with that goal against Arsenal, he became this country’s boy wonder overnight at 16.
Still a kid, he was playing upfront with his idol Duncan Ferguson, the man he wrote to as a nine-year-old when the Scot was in Barlinnie prison and at 18 he was scoring goals for fun on England duty at Euro 2004 with David Beckham and Steven Gerrard.
So, fast forward to today, less than a week after he announced his retirement and became Derby County manager, there is no better mentor for the Rams youngsters.
Louie Sibley and Jason Knight are two hot prospects at Pride Park. Much is expected of them and at 19, they too are starting to get attention. While they won’t be under the spotlight Rooney experienced, the media’s glare is already there, linking them with moves away to help ease Derby financial troubles. At that age, Rooney had already left Goodison Park to join Manchester United. He will have had heaps of good advice. It’s likely he will have had bad advice too. Who better to help these young lads as they enter the game than him?
Yes, he’s England’s all-time scorer and knows all there is to know about where to be on the pitch, when to run, when to shoot but Rooney himself will admit he made mistakes both on and off the pitch, even later on in his career. So too will Derby’s players coming through, we all do. Rooney has infinite wisdom to pass on to at least make those young players stop and think.
His knowledge as a player will be useful but his experiences in the wider world of football, from the press to fans, sponsors to personal setbacks, will be invaluable. He was thrown in at the deep end and took to the Premier League like a duck to water. He got it wrong on occasion but he’s learned. Wayne Rooney is the perfect mentor for every young player.