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Ranked! Wayne Rooney's 10 greatest career moments

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
(Image credit: PA)

In accordance with the old cliche, Wayne Rooney wasn't just a great goalscorer, but a scorer of great goals too. He could also pass, dribble and was as industrious as a sled dog in his pomp! 

Yes, the boy from Croxteth could do it all, and regularly did it across spells with Everton, Manchester United, DC United, Derby County and on the international stage with England too. 

It isn't easy picking Wazza's most iconic moments, but we've tried to select 10 that best summarise Rooney's remarkable talents. Take a trip down memory lane with us and remind yourself what made Rooney such a phenomenal talent. Welcome to Wayne's world...

10. Assist for RVP vs Aston Villa (2013)

Rooney’s scoring exploits may have seen him become the second-sharpest shooter in Premier League history, but his creative contribution should not be overlooked. Third in the assists table (behind only Ryan Giggs and Cesc Fabrgeas), the Englishman’s ability to pick a pass played a key role in Manchester United’s dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Arguably the greatest example of his vision and technical prowess was his assist for a Robin Van Persie’s volley against Aston Villa in 2013 - a stunning strike which helped seal the title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year in charge. Rooney’s raking pass, from inside his own half, found RVP on the run, and the Dutchman put United 2-0 up and beyond reach. It was a phenomenal goal from the former Arsenal striker, but it owed much to Rooney’s vision. 

“Wayne and I had talked before the game about the pass over the Villa defence,” Van Persie told ManUtd.com in 2020. “We’d worked on it in training, too. Everything came together in that moment. You practise these things, you plan them, but when it comes off in a game like that, in the way it did, that’s what you dream of.”

9. Goal from his own half vs West Ham (2017)

In his later years, Wazza made a habit of scoring from distance. There was the volleyed dipper for Manchester United against West Ham in 2014 (watched from the stands by David Beckham, no less), but it was his first-time strike against the same club three years later that became his most audacious effort. 

Back at his boyhood club following 13 years in Manchester, Rooney scored the first hat-trick of his Everton career in November 2017. His third strike that afternoon will be less fondly remembered by former England teammate Joe Hart. The Hammers netminder found himself in no man's land after his botched clearance was met by the oncoming Rooney. Well inside his own half, he simply welted Hart’s shank straight back in the direction it came, soaring like an arrow into the back of the net. If ever there was a late-career reminder of Rooney’s incredible technique, this was it. 

8. Becoming England's record goalscorer (2015)

Rooney could score all types of goals: freekicks, long-rangers, volleys, thunderbolts, chips and headers. But it was a penalty that provided his most meaningful achievement in football. This finish from 12-yards in a routine win over Switzerland during Euro 2016 qualifying put England 2-0 up on the night, and ultimately made little difference to the outcome. 

But it had a monumental impact on the history books, given that it moved Rooney one clear of Sir Bobby Charlton in the all-time England scoring charts. Rooney’s 50th strike from his country was ruthlessly dispatched, and sent a packed Wembley into raptures. The boy from Croxteth would eventually bow out with 53 strikes from 120 appearances. Not bad at all. 

7. Assist for Acosta vs Orlando (2018)

Most legends joining the MLS to see out the twilight of their careers tend to treat it like a semi-retirement home. Arrive, wave to the fans, mail-in a half-baked performance and return home to spend those mountains of cash. Not Wayne Rooney. Evidently still too motivated and physically capable to even be in the States, the former England skipper’s performances for DC United transformed the unfashionable club from basement fodder to play-off contenders. 

His commitment was best displayed through his match-winning assist against Orlando that went viral in August 2018. 

In just his sixth game for his new club, and with the scores at 2-2, Rooney found himself chasing back from a corner to prevent an open goal in the dying moments of the match. After winning possession on the halfway line, Rooney launched a 50-yard missile onto the head of strike partner Luciano Acosta. The Argentine did the rest, and DC United fans knew they were onto a winner with Wayne. 

6. Becoming Manchester United's record goalscorer (2017)

Rooney didn't just take Sir Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record - he took his Manchester United one too. In January 2017, the United skipper rifled home a magnificent freekick to rescue a point against stubborn Stoke City in the Premier League. The strike was more significant than that, however, as it moved Wazza onto 250 Manchester United goals, surpassing Charlton’s long-standing record.

"It means a hell of a lot,” he told reporters after the match. “It is a great honour and I am very proud. It is not something I expected when I joined. As I said before, I am proud and I hope there is more to come.”

There were more to come, but not all that many: three, to be exact.

5. First Premier League goal vs Arsenal (2002)

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"Wayne Rooney, remember the name!” an astounded Cilve Tyldesley instructed football fans in October 2002. The freckled 16-year-old had just smashed a howitzer beyond David Seaman to seal a 2-1 win and end the champions' 30-game unbeaten streak. Still, not even the veteran commentator could have had any idea just how prophetic those words would turn out to be.

It soon emerged that goals of that quality were 10-a-penny for boy wonder Wayne. While he went on to score another 207 Premier League goals, many of them spectacular, this one still ranks highly in his repertoire. It might not be best in technical terms (there is a hint of a deflection off Sol Campbell) but it still sums-up Rooney’s monstrous confidence at such a young age. The street striker who became a legend - fans who saw him will never forget him. 

4. Overhead kick vs Manchester City (2011)

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Did he shin it? Who cares! Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City in February 2011 remains the iconic moment in British football derby culture, bar none. The audacity, the execution (it went top bins regardless of what body part it came off), the fact it sealed a late win over United’s fierce rivals and the celebration that followed make it untouchable as a whole package. Just ask Sir Alex.

"It was stunning," the United gaffer said in the aftermath of that 2-1 win. "Nani's was an unbelievable goal, but nobody in their right sense will even talk about it. All the talk will be about that winning goal - unbelievable. We've had some fantastic goals here but in terms of execution, you'll never see that."

City might have gone on to win their first title that season, but without Rooney’s overhead the title race wouldn't have gone to the final day of the season. No Rooney, no Agueroooooooo - we owe Wazza one for that madness. 

3. Brace vs Croatia (2004)

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Aged 17, Rooney had become the youngest goalscorer in European Championship history when he nodded in the first of two goals against Switzerland four days earlier. Yet it was his performance against Croatia in England’s final Group B clash of Euro 2004 that sent the nation into meltdown. 

With England trailing from an early goal, the “White Pele” (as Rooney was soon dubbed by the press) teed up a Paul Scholes leveller before taking centre stage. His low drive from the edge of the box gave England the lead, before a one-two with Michael Owen on the halfway line sent him clear to score a composed second. Croatia rallied late on, but the damage had been done, and England eventually ran out 4-2 winners. The 17-year-old’s mature performances earned him a subsequent move to Old Trafford that same summer, and the rest is history. 

2. Volley vs Newcastle United (2005)

Few passages of play sum up Wayne Rooney’s character and ability quite like those surrounding his volleyed strike against Newcastle in April 2005. Evidently miffed by some injustice, Rooney spent the moments prior to this explosive strike complaining to referee Neale Barry. He later revealed he was annoyed that Alan Shearer’s aggressive play was going unpunished. 

As Barry ran off to, erm, actually officiate the ongoing match, Rooney caught hold of a ball that happened to be dropping in his general direction, 30 yards out. All that pent-up frustration exploded from the striker’s right boot as he sent his shot wailing into the top corner of Shay Given’s net. The swerve, the power, the sound and the red-faced relief on the young man’s face - Wayne Rooney in a nutshell. 

Then he booted it in again by way of celebration.

1. Debut hat-trick vs Fenerbahce (2004)

If a “perfect hat-trick” is left foot, right foot header, then what do you call three jaw-droppingly good hits, by an 18-year-old, on his Manchester United debut, in the Champions League? 

Red Devils fans would have been buzzing to catch a glimpse of Rooney against Fenerbahce in August 2004, but few could have imagined the £27m capture from Everton would make this kind of impact. After just 17 minutes - and with United already in front - Rooney blasted home a Ruud Van Nistelrooy through ball to open his account. He then shifted his weight to beat a man before arrowing a second in from the edge of the area before the half-hour mark. 

Then topped it off with a stunning second half-freekick. United won 6-2 on the night, but the game will be forever remembered as the most iconic Old Trafford debut in history. 

“I don't suppose I have seen a debut like it,” beamed Sir Alex Ferguson at the final whistle. “What you saw tonight is the reason we signed him. And I think he can only get stronger now.” 

As usual, the great Scot was right. 

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Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Key FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.