Rooney Junior happy to exit Wayne’s world

IT’S A grey and misty morning in New Jersey.

Which is a pity because the Spanish colonial architecture of Montclair State University surely deserves better lighting.

Walking through the heart of the campus and climbing up towards the soccer pitch, you begin to hear the unmistakable voices of a game in progress.

I’m a little late but for once I don’t blame me, the traffic or the gods of disorganisation. In all fairness, we didn’t kick off at 10am during my Greenmount Rangers days in the AUL.

But then this is reserve football in Major League Soccer. While most sane people are enjoying a lie-in, these professional footballers on the fringe have been up for hours, preparing to fight for their careers against each other.

The MSU college teams share this facility with the New York Red Bulls, whose second string side hosted their New England Revolution counterparts last Saturday on an artificial surface that looks and feels a dream to play on, despite what most purists might think.

As I start to adjust my eyes to the action, the low-hanging gloom is pierced by a loud Liverpool accent. This is the guy I’ve come to talk to. It’s not the most original reason in the world. He’s Wayne Rooney’s brother.

It’s hard to know if John, to give him his own name and his own paragraph, is cursed or blessed by the last three words of the previous paragraph.

What’s certain is that he’s moved 3,500 miles to become his own footballer on his own terms.

“The media over here are keen to talk about me,” he tells me after the game when I predictably ask him about the other fella in the most roundabout way possible (“So the media over here, do they hassle you about your big brother?”).

“It’s not like at home where all they want to do is talk about Wayne. It’s good for me to be out here, I can keep my head down and concentrate on my own career. It’s great experience, I’m really enjoying it.”

But of course, why else would I want to harangue the club for weeks about a one-on-one with John Rooney? It’s more than a little bit interesting that the kid brother of one of the world’s most famous players has swapped Macclesfield for Manhattan.

Sort of. The Red Bulls play at an über-modern stadium just outside Newark, NJ, a quick train ride across the Hudson from the city. Rooney lives nearby in Secaucus where he can enjoy the convenience and lower taxes of his adopted state and the awe-inspiring metropolis of the neighbouring one across the river.

“It’s one of the best cities in the world,” he acknowledges chuckling, his eyes betraying a disbelief that I would even ask such a stupid question. “I’m just three minutes away from it and to be able to just pop over there, that’s great.”

Anything he misses about home?

“Family, really. But I speak to them every day so that makes it easier. That’s the only thing though, just family.”

Conveniently, the Red Bulls will travel to London at the end of July for the Emirates Cup hosted by Arsenal and also featuring Paris Saint-Germain and Boca Juniors. He’s looking forward to the chance to catch up with his people during that otherwise pointless tournament.

Rooney is a central midfielder — squad number 16 — and is a commanding presence that likes to get on the ball a lot. There isn’t a corner or a throw-in that he doesn’t want to take. He even comes close with a second-half free kick that he curls over the wall from 20 yards, forcing the Revolution keeper into a full length save.

Just over 12 hours previously, he came on to make his second substitute appearance for the first team in a 2-1 home win over New England.

He makes himself available for every pass and while he doesn’t shirk playing it simple, he’s often keen to send the ball long to test the full backs. He’s not always effective but he’s always keen. And always communicating.

“I like to talk on the pitch,” he agrees, smiling. “You gotta talk, you know. It makes it easier. We have a lot of young players coming up from the Academy, they’re a bit shy and don’t talk as much as they should maybe so I step in. They couldn’t understand me at first but they’re getting better.”

Things are a little different, though, when he’s asked to talk to the press. He approaches me cautiously, cajoled gently by the expert diplomacy of the Red Bulls press officer.

And who could blame him?

His adolescence has been spent watching his older brother flourish on the pitch and get put through the wringer off it. All while trying to develop his own talents.

In fact he had barely begun his senior career at League Two Macclesfield Town and he was already being touted as a future Irish international.

“That was just paper talk,” he tells me before going on to deny any knowledge of immediate Irish ancestry in his family.

“I think they just ran off the name Rooney.”

The story of his life.

- john.w.riordan@gmail.com; Twitter: JohnWRiordan

Picture: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

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