67 appearances, 15 goals
“He’s the biggest English talent I’ve seen since I arrived in England. We were beaten by a special goal from a very special talent.” – Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger
“A striker of astonishing precociousness” – Journalist Guy Hodgson
“There is no doubt in my mind. Rooney is no longer just a good prospect – he is already a good player.” – Leeds Manager Terry Venables
“He gave us a glimpse of what he is capable of, which was very exciting for Everton and the whole of English football. Two or three times he really stretched us and he’s only just 17. You’ve got to wonder how good he will be in two or three years’ time.” – West Ham Manager Glenn Roeder
Arsenal seem to have a special relationship with Everton. When Alan Ball left he moved to Highbury. Dixie scored his 60th against them, Arsenal won the title in 1998 by beating us 4-0, and this year what could be Arsene Wenger’s last game as manager could be against us on the last day of the season…
…And of course Wayne Rooney bagged his first against a seemingly invincible Arsenal.
The 16 year old came on with only the embers of the match remaining. He was already furious because David Moyes hadn’t played him from the start. It didn’t take him long to turn the game; sending a long range shot that looped over Seaman’s head like a vandal’s brick.
After the goal the young Scouser was bouncing around like a videogame character somehow transplanted into a world of professional footballers. His feet doing what legions of teenagers could only dream of doing with their XBox thumbs.
What most don’t remember is that Rooney came close to scoring a second goal that day. To loop the ball over Seaman’s head once was impressive; to do it twice, and see the ball stray just a pixel too high was amazing. It was bold AUDACITY with the caps lock on.
I was sat there in the Park End, in what – looking back – felt like a Royal box seat for Rooney’s coming-of-age…
And I wasn’t exactly sure what I was witnessing.
Was Wayne going to be another false dawn like Danny Cadamarteri?
The dreadlocked 17-year-old had come into the world of football feet first and hit the ground running, like a precocious young chess champ intent on playing a pickup game with the Grand Masters.
Of course, it neither began nor ended with that goal. The Rooney phenomenon was already something of an open secret amongst those in-the-know at Goodison, and he went on to score other great goals for Everton, performing an impossibly sharp u-turn at Elland Road whilst leaving Lucas Radebe for dead, as well as a great return goal at Arsenal’s place. Against Bolton he didn’t score, but dominated proceedings to such an extent that stories from that game still bounce around…
The rest of this blue fairy tale remains unwritten; Wayne didn’t go on to drag us into a golden age, instead he left for Old Trafford. Rooney is surely the greatest talent to come through Everton’s youth team and deserves his place on this list, but I’m not going to rank him any higher than 55th…
Everton were of course compensated with millions for letting him go, but the Wayne I knew, the bullish street-fighter with the world at his feet?
I wouldn’t have swapped him for a wilderness of millions.
Premier League: Saturday 11 February (15:00); Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium
Saturday 25 February (15:00); Sunderland at Goodison