A volley of flashbulbs greeted him. A 2,500-strong crowd in thrall chanted his name. "Win it for us," one spectator begged. "You're a genius," cried another. Rooney blinked, smiled nervously. An aptitude for stealing the show is his stock in trade. Milan one day, Earls Court Exhibition Centre the next.
Related ArticlesBeckham surrenders old kingdom to RooneyWayne Rooney goalsWayne Rooney: England star playerWayne Rooney in picturesWayne RooneyAccording to Fifa rules, only past winners and heads of state are allowed to touch the World Cup. For now, the King of Old Trafford had to make do with close proximity and a focused glare. But not for him the superstition of Steven Gerrard, who could scarcely bear to look at the Champions League trophy when introduced to it at a media event in 2005. When you're enjoying a season like Rooney's, you can tempt as much fate as you like.
"You try not to think too much about the World Cup, but it's always there in your mind," he said. "It's a bit weird, because it's the most iconic trophy of all time. Hopefully we'll have this back here by the end of July."
That 15-inch trophy is hard-wired into Rooney's consciousness. He recalled sitting in his grandmother's front room at age 12, seeing Michael Owen scoring against Argentina. He remembered seeing Ronaldo light up the Far East four years later. Gelsenkirchen in 2006, on the other hand, remains a painful memory. Not that he ever does, but come South Africa he shall not want for motivation.
That much was clear after the trophy was cleared away and a widescreen TV and Playstation wheeled onto the stage in its place. The game was Fifa World Cup 2010. Rooney's adversary was Matt, a competition winner who had earned this opportunity by opening a lucky bottle of cola. But from Rooney's desperate, unflinching expression, it could just as easily have been a flying Carvalho or Lucio at Soccer City. Here is a man who despises defeat. At anything.
Matt, playing as Spain, scored early in the second half. Rooney, as England, edged closer and closer to the screen, shaking his head vigorously and gesturing wildly as tackles and passes went astray. Rooney accepted his 1-0 loss with humility and waved to the crowd as he departed, but you feel the next person to take him on at that game is in for a fearful hiding.
* Former World Cup winner Carlos Alberto has called Wayne Rooney "the best player in the world". The Brazilian, a member of the 1970 World Cup-winning team, said in an interview on Scottish radio: "Rooney is now the best. Better than Messi, better than Ronaldo. It is because he has worked so hard to become the best."