Wayne Rooney: Remembering Wazza's First Year as a Professional

Wayne Rooney during his first stint at Everton
Wayne Rooney during his first stint at Everton | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney's long, decorated career is laden with individual awards and trophies.

Often described as the most naturally gifted English footballer of all time, from an early age, Rooney displayed a footballing IQ which exceeded his years. When combined with his powerful playing style and ferocious shooting ability, the results were deadly.

Rooney will be remembered for his time with Manchester United and the England national team - holding the all-time goalscoring record for each side - surpassing both records previously held by the great Sir Bobby Charlton.

For me the power of Wayne Rooney is his mentality and strength. He never stops, he always runs, helps the team. He's a fantastic team player and he scores goals. He scored important goals, for me he's fantastic.

Cristiano Ronaldo speaking in 2015
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Rooney receiving Man Utd's all-time goalscorer award. | OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

As an eight-year-old, the local lad from Croxteth had already made a reputation for himself as a goal machine. Ex-Everton scout Bob Pendleton, also secretary for Walton and Kirkdale Junior League, was collecting fees from boys clubs at the Jeffrey Humble pitches on Long Lane. He decided to stick around and watch the Copplehouse Boys Under-11s. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made.

Despite being two years younger than his opponents, Rooney dominated the game and - legend has it - scored over 80 goals that season for the club. Having rejected a trial with Liverpool, Pendleton brought Rooney to Everton where he opted to signed for their youth academy. Growing up an Evertonian, it was a dream come true for the youngster.

His relentless rise through the ranks at the Toffees saw him star for the Under-19s at just 14. By the age of 15, he was representing England at Under-17 level.

An FA Youth Cup run, where Everton reached the final with Rooney scoring in every round, convinced then manager David Moyes to call him up to the first team. On 17 August 2002, Rooney made his full senior debut in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham at Goodison Park. At just 16, he became Everton's second youngest first-team player - second only to the iconic Joe Royle.

I remember in the first few days he came into training he chipped the goalkeeper from a narrow angle and all the staff looking in from the outside looked at each other to say: Did he really do that? It was incredible.

David Moyes speaking in 2016.

"The day was memorable for Everton celebrating 100 years of top-flight football, and for the debut of talented teenager Wayne Rooney. He lasted 66 minutes before he was substituted, but gave glimpses of the talent that has won rave reviews," a BBC Report read.

His first goal for the Toffees came in as spectacular a fashion as you would expect. On the 19th October 2002 against Arsenal, a high arching ball was expertly controlled by Rooney, a deft first touch created space between the defence for him to drive into. As the defenders backed away, he unleashed a vicious strike from 25-yards out which cannoned off the bar and into David Seaman's net.

The last minute strike would end Arsenal's 30-match unbeaten run and go down as one of the Premier League's most iconic goals.

His second Premier League goal was also something to behold. Rooney started the match on the bench when Everton travelled to Elland Road to take on a faltering Leeds side. Everton dominated the match to no avail before Rooney entered the frame in the 75th minute.

With ten minutes left on the clock, the 17-year-old picked up the ball in midfield, sat Erik Bakke down with a deadly turn, drove toward the Leeds back-line and placed a finessed finish past Nigel Martyn into the far corner. Pandemonium ensued in the away end as the travelling support rushed onto the field to celebrate with their new superstar.

Despite his tender age, Rooney was entrusted by Moyes to make an impact for the Toffees. The talent was undeniable and it was abundantly clear he was destined for superstardom. His close control and direct style of play were imperative in Everton's campaign that year.

His natural shooting ability was clear to see, the kid had an eye for goal and a rocket of right foot. Rooney's finishing ability was on display again in Everton's reverse fixture with Arsenal on the 23rd of March 2003. Another marauding unassisted goal with the defence backing off in fear, the teenager had an unparalleled ability to take matters into his own hands.

Rooney made 37 appearances for the Toffees in his debut season, scoring eight goals. A tally that would see him nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Standing just 5'9 tall and holding a very teenage frame, Rooney was deceptively strong. Coming from a boxing background, he utilised a strong centre of gravity which served him well as he tussled with the league's mammoth defenders. He adapted tremendously well into the physically challenging, fast-paced nature of top-flight football.

A true generational talent that we have cherished over the years, it didn't take Rooney very long at all to become a household name.