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Wayne Rooney exclusive with Gary Neville: My England highs and lows

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In a candid, must-read interview with Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney opens up about the highs and lows of his England career.

From the early years as a teenager at Euro 2004 and that sending off against Portugal in 2006, to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record and a tough farewell at Manchester United, Rooney has enjoyed many highs and lows during a glittering career.

Here, looking back on his time with England, he gives his honest account…

Watch Gary Neville’s full interview with Wayne Rooney on Sky Sports On Demand – Plus find out more about the Wayne Rooney Foundation and how to donate

The early years

Neville: You’ve always been confident. The big thing I remember about you in the first tournament at Euro 2004 was the morning of the Portugal quarter-final. We said: “Are you OK?” and you said: “I can’t wait for tonight.” Usually, players on the day of a game, particularly a massive game like that, are a little bit nervous. Do you still feel like that about football? Confident, bullish, or a little bit more worn now at 33?

Rooney: I love playing. The worst games for me are night games because you’re waiting around, you just want to get out, get on the pitch and play! I’ve always been confident in my own ability, and obviously the game changes the older you get, you try to read the game a bit more, take your rest during the game a bit more, when you’re more experienced to know when those moments come. I love playing football so whether that’s in the Premier League or in MLS now, that feeling of going out on the pitch doesn’t change.

Neville: How would you describe your England career?

Rooney: The only time I really looked back was when I stopped playing, when you start looking at different situations, different games, what you can do better. I think overall it was good, getting records was the highlight of it, but then you look back in disappointment in the main areas of it, in the tournaments. Euro 2004 was good; I still believe the form I was in, the confidence I had, if I’d stayed fit I believe we would have won it.

Neville: I believe the same thing… I genuinely believe that was the one tournament, other than Euro 96, that we would have won.

Rooney: I believe that as well. In 2006 I should never have gone. I obviously had the broken foot, I pushed myself to go, and it was difficult because you’re looking at a World Cup, my foot felt good, felt OK, but just in terms of the preparation for it, if I had that decision to make again, or if I was advising another younger player in a similar situation, I’d say: “Listen, there’s time there to get your chance, don’t put that much pressure on yourself to come back, if you’re physically not fit.” My foot was fine but I wasn’t prepared for the tournament.

That sending off

Neville: Do you feel that contributed towards what happened in the Portugal quarter-final at World Cup 2006, in terms of frustration?

Rooney: Not really, I think the frustration came from two or three of their players pushing and pulling me, and the ref being there and doing nothing, and then obviously Carvalho was fouled, and I’ve had a little go at him, and I think that was a big part of my game that changed after that. It was a weird situation after the game, because I knew I’d let everybody down, but I was watching the penalties and you know your tournament is over. It was strange because you’re thinking, if you go to the final you’re going to miss the final, and if you go out, it’s your fault. It was just weird things going through your head at that time. It was a real low moment for me.

Coaching, then and now

Neville: That’s one thing I take from my England career, the disappointments at the tournaments. Will you ever get over that, or will you always think that way?

Rooney: I think I’ll get over it. Of course I know I could have done better, as a team I think we were unlucky on a couple of occasions, on penalties, but I think we could have done better. Maybe if we had those players in this era, when there does seem to be a lot more coaching, a lot more intelligence in terms of how the teams are prepared and set up, I think a lot of coaches, the likes of Guardiola and Klopp coming into the Premier League, are helping a lot of our young players. I know there is a debate over foreign managers in the Premier League but I believe what they’re doing for the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, players like that, has given them a massive amount of knowledge of how to play the game. It’s my turn to go and watch as a fan now and try to enjoy it that way.

Neville: Are you talking about us not being as tactically prepared as other teams in the major tournaments?

Rooney: I just feel the managers we had were good, but if you’re asking were they at a level of a Spain or German manager, or Italian manager? You look at the Italian side who won the World Cup, quality-wise I don’t think they were as good as a few teams in the tournament, but just tactically they knew what they were doing, they knew their jobs and knew everything, and I think we were just one step behind with that.

Embarrassment at United

Neville: You obviously had a great England career. I always see you as being mentally and physically tough as a player. Are you willing to talk about some of the vulnerabilities you’ve had in the last 15 years? Even playing with you I never would have thought you were lacking in confidence, but are there things you can share with the young lads that are here?

Rooney: I think there are periods throughout my career where you do lack a bit in confidence, where you doubt yourself at times. I think there was a time at Manchester United [2006/07 season] where I was scoring goals, and then for some reason I couldn’t score. You’re down, because I love football, love playing football and after the games I’d go home and watch the games back, to try and see where I’ve gone wrong in certain moments, and I couldn’t work it out. It was so frustrating.

I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t scoring, why I wasn’t playing as well. Then you end up trying harder, it becomes worse, you feel like you’re just stuck. I always remember Sir Alex Ferguson pulling me into his office, and he said: “Listen, you’re trying too hard, just keep the game simple. Get the ball, lay it off, get in the box. Your chance will come, you will score and you’ll continue to score.” That’s what I did the next game, got the ball, played one or two touch, and I think I scored a hat-trick against Bolton away. I remember sitting there thinking: “It can’t be that simple!” That’s always stuck me when I’ve gone through difficult moments.

But then, of course, there are times when you doubt yourself as a player, and think: “Am I good enough?” The time Jose Mourinho left me out of the Manchester United team. There are moments when you do doubt yourself, I believe I was good enough to get back in the team, but I never really got that opportunity. I came on for one minute in the Europa League final, I was about to come on against Southampton in the League Cup final, and in those moments it was embarrassing.

It was getting to a point where I was embarrassed, I thought: “I can’t keep doing this,” as hard as it was to leave Man Utd. In the Southampton game, Mourinho came to me and said: “I want you to lift the trophy.” I was like: “Well, I didn’t even play in the game.” He was persistent with it, and I literally lifted it and moved it on! I just knew… “What was I doing? I need to move on and go somewhere else…”

Rooney’s bests

Neville: Who was the best player you played with for England?

Rooney: For United it would be Scholesy, but for England I’d have to say Gerrard. At times he got us through games, at the period where we lost players like yourself, Rio, Becks, he pulled us through a lot of games.

Neville: Favourite game you’ve ever played in for England?

Rooney: It was a friendly, against Argentina in 2005, where we won 3-2. I was still a young lad, and I just loved it. The rivalry, and although it was a friendly it didn’t feel like one at all. They had some great players. That feeling after the game was incredible.

Neville: The best team you played against in an England shirt?

Rooney: Spain, away. I got subbed before half-time. Literally for 40 minutes I didn’t touch the ball. I smashed Salgado, and then threw Casillas into the crowd, I was going to get sent off so Sven took me off!

In pictures

Rooney: It was a strange game. Sven changed all 11 at half-time, that was debatable as well! But it was a special moment, and I think the good thing about this game was I came on at the same time as Francis Jeffers, he and I came on up front. We’re from the same area, went to the same school, so for that area and that school, it was a really proud moment. Franny scored, which he always reminds me of, he scored one goal in half a game, that’s his record he says! That was a big moment. I think the XI of us that came on at half-time, I think I was the only one who kept their place for the next squad. So I knew then that the manager liked me, so I was ready to progress and do better.

Rooney: It was a decent enough strike. The ‘keeper could have done better! It was a special moment to score for England as a 17-year-old. I remember the goal; Emile Heskey nodded it down to me and I got an OK connection on it, and I don’t know if the goalkeeper was unsighted or what, but it was my first goal, first of many.

Rooney: It was both relief and pressure. I was so nervous before the penalty, because I was just thinking “If you miss here…”

In my head I remember Gary Lineker missing his penalty on 48 goals. It was a similar feeling, just “Please don’t miss this, you might not get this chance again, you never know what will happen…” I just picked my corner and thankfully it has gone in. It was really emotional after the goal, and to get the record was just a release of pride and relief.

Rooney: It was nice to do it for Manchester United and England, and obviously for Sir Bobby to present me with the two of them was a special moment. A legend of Man Utd and a legend of England. It’s a nice picture to have. It was a great moment.

Watch Gary Neville’s full interview with Wayne Rooney on Sky Sports On Demand – Plus find out more about the Wayne Rooney Foundation and how to donate

England v USA is live on Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Thursday.

(c) Sky News 2018: Wayne Rooney exclusive with Gary Neville: My England highs and lows