Gary Neville has explained exactly what it was like to face Wayne Rooney for the first time in his career.
The pair would eventually become Manchester United teammates between Rooney’s arrival in 2004 and Neville’s retirement from professional football in 2011.
They won 12 trophies together during that time. United won the 2008 Champions League, four Premier League titles and one Club World Cup.
Neville and Rooney enjoyed many memorable moments together. But it was a meeting in 2002 where the pair played against each other for the first time – and it wasn’t a great experience for one of them.
Rooney’s early career
Before moving to Manchester United in the summer of 2004, Wayne Rooney broke through Everton‘s youth academy and into the first team.
The speed of his ascent was genuinely remarkable. He made his senior debut in August 2002, and scored his first senior goal two months later against Arsenal at Goodison Park. At 16 years and 360 days, Rooney was the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history.
In his first full season with the Toffees first team, he netted eight goals in 36 appearances in all competitions. He then scored nine goals in 40 games in his second campaign. By 2004, he had been called up to the England squad for Euro 2004. By the end of the summer, he was a Manchester United player.
Before all that, Rooney was part of the Everton team that reached the FA Youth Cup final in 2002. He had scored seven goals in seven games before the final. Despite the Toffees losing to Aston Villa, Rooney managed to score during a 4-2 aggregate defeat.
Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney meet
The year 2002 wasn’t particularly memorable for Gary Neville.
He was meant to go to the World Cup as England’s first-choice right-back. However, he ruled himself out of contention following a broken foot.
During the year, Neville was playing in a reserve game for Manchester United against Everton. On the opposing side was Wayne Rooney.
Speaking in a new Amazon Prime documentary titled ‘Rooney’, Neville explained how fired up the young striker was.
He said (quotes via Daily Mail): “I played against him as a 16-year-old in a reserve game. He booted me and David May. I couldn’t believe it. I knew he was a dirty little b******.
“He played like he was a street kid from the minute he came in at Everton. Fought for every ball, jumped for every header, threw himself into every tackle, defended for his life, attacked for his life. That’s why he was so special.”
He also said: “He was doing something that was, for an English player, really, really special. That was just breathtaking, this was a different level, it was out of this world. He was ripping them to shreds [versus France at Euro 2004]. They couldn’t handle him and he was 18 years of age.”
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