WAYNE ROONEY is prepared for the special tingle in his spine on Sunday as he tries to deny boyhood idols Everton a place in the FA Cup Final.
The acrimony surrounding Rooney’s £27m (e30.5m) move to Manchester United in 2004, followed by the abrupt downturn in his relationship with Toffees boss David Moyes, has rather soured the forward’s relationship with the Goodison Park faithful.
Yet, as an individual, Rooney remains at heart the kid who learned his art in an Everton kit as he kicked a ball about in Croxteth, posters on his wall of heroes such as Paul Rideout, the man who scored the goal that beat United in the 1995 final.
Rooney was present at Wembley that famous day, cheering the men in blue on to victory.
This weekend he is on Alex Ferguson’s side. It still means something that it is Everton,” said the England star. “It is the team I grew up supporting. It makes it a big day for me, although the most important thing is for United to reach the final.”
Rooney keeps a close enough eye on Everton’s form to make a fairly accurate assessment of their abilities.
Tim Cahill’s goals, Tim Howard’s saves and plenty of endeavour at both ends of the field. A team that gets the best out of itself.
“Everton are an honest side,” said Rooney. They work hard for each other and will be trying to make it difficult for us. But I missed the Carling Cup final when we last got to Wembley, so hopefully I will be part of the team that gets us to another.”
While Ferguson felt the need to offer a mild rebuke to Cristiano Ronaldo last weekend for not being enough of a team player, no such requirement exists for Rooney.
Indeed, there have been times when United’s long-serving manager has felt the need to demand his young forward becomes more selfish, a point reinforced by Fabio Capello.
It is an inescapable fact, however, that when Ferguson needs a specific job done — last night in the Champions League quarter-final against Porto it was protecting his full-back in defence while being an effective performer at the other end of the field — it is to Rooney United turn, the trust rewarded so often.
“I have no problem with where I play,” he shrugged. “If it helps the team get results, I will do it. The plan was in place — and we stuck to it.”
Rooney has long since buried the hatchet with Ronaldo over their infamous spat at the last World Cup when many of the forward’s England team-mates were critical of Ronaldo’s reaction to a tackle on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho they felt got what should have been a friend sent off in Gelsenkirchen.
The pair do seem to be different, Ronaldo revelling in the limelight, Rooney tending to shy away from it even if, in private, he is hardly a shrinking violet.
But there is a mutual respect. And Rooney was one of the first to join the celebrations at Estadio do Dragao after Ronaldo lashed home his wonder goal to earn United a 1-0 win and a semi-final place.
“It was a special goal in a special game, more than good enough to win it,” he said. “Cristiano feels it is important to do well when he comes back to Portugal and we are thankful that he did.”
Despite his tender years, Rooney’s list of credits is growing. He already has 50 England caps to his name, a couple of Premier League titles and a European Cup. The FA Cup remains absent from his trophy collection, although he aims to put that right soon.
Now another European semi-final is on the horizon, with Arsenal the opponents in a clash to relish.
“Arsenal is a mouthwatering prospect,” said Rooney. “The only other English team we have played in this competition so far is Chelsea in last year’s final. It should be an exciting couple of games because they like to play good football.”
A week ago, Arsenal would probably have been favourites given the form of the respective teams.
The Gunners maintained their drive by hammering Villarreal but there was a verve about United’s performance that has been so noticeably missing of late.
And while Wenger’s men, beset by injury earlier in the season and now free from the side issue of a Premier League title to fight for, may be the fresher team, United have the durability of a street-fighter, having come through similar battles so many times before.
“To have so many big games coming up is amazing,” said Rooney. “It is why you want to play for Manchester United. Every game is massive. When you get close to winning trophies, they always are — and we are getting closer.”
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