EPL

'Remember the name!' – Should Rooney's first Premier League goal be held in higher regard?

By Sports Desk October 19, 2022

"Remember the name... Wayne Rooney!"

Broadcaster Clive Tyldesley commentated on plenty of famous moments down the years, and his excitement in this instance was justified.

Five days short of his 17th birthday, Wayne Rooney came on as a late substitute for Everton at Goodison Park. The Toffees were drawing 1-1 with Arsenal, the reigning Premier League champions.

Everton had only beaten Arsenal once in their previous 12 meetings, but on October 19, 2002, Rooney stepped up to deliver a sensational stoppage-time winner and kick-start a career that saw him rise to the very top.

Talk of the terraces

October 19, 2002 might have been the day Rooney cemented himself at the forefront of English football, but the boy wonder from the Liverpool suburb of Croxteth had been the talk of the Blue side of the city for some time.

"The first time I ever played with Wayne, he was 14 years old," recalled Kevin Campbell, speaking on Everton fan channel The Blue Room in 2021, after Rooney had announced his retirement at the age of 35.

"He's had a remarkable career, he’s been a fantastic footballer for England, broken records. He's made his mark. I'm pleased, and I'm proud that I played with him and captained him."

Nobody perhaps quite foresaw what a success Rooney would go on to become, of course. He is, after all, Manchester United and England's record goalscorer – albeit Harry Kane could well surpass Rooney's 53 international strikes at the upcoming World Cup. However, there was a definite buzz around Rooney as he came through the ranks of Everton's academy.

"We knew where he was destined for," said Campbell. "We heard that there's a young lad coming through who's good, Wayne Rooney.

"When I ended up playing with him [in the reserves], and someone said 'this is Wayne Rooney', I was like 'the kit's too big for him!' But wow, he left an impression on me, and this was two years prior. I went back to the lads and said 'there's this kid Rooney coming up, he should be with us now'. As soon as he finished school, he came in, one training session and the lads were... jaws on the floor. Incredible talent."

Rooney had made the bench towards the end of the 2001-02 season, and while it is his strike against Arsenal that sticks in the mind, he first scored earlier in October, in a 3-0 defeat of Wrexham in the League Cup, netting twice.

Eighteen days later, his time on the big stage arrived.

A bolt from the blue

Rooney's full debut in the Premier League (then known as the Premiership, of course) actually came on the opening day of the 2002-03 season, David Moyes having named him in the side to face Tottenham at Goodison Park. The match ended 2-2, with Rooney assisting one of Everton's goals.

Further league starts followed against Birmingham City and Aston Villa before his crowning moment as the competition's youngest goalscorer came.

Freddie Ljungberg had put Arsenal ahead early on, but Tomasz Radzinski lashed in an equaliser 14 minutes later.

David Seaman – days after conceding to Macedonia's Artim Sakiri direct from a corner in his final England appearance – twice denied Thomas Gravesen while Everton rode their luck at the other end.

It was Gravesen's prod forward in the closing moments that was then brought down effortlessly by Rooney.

With deft control beyond his years, Rooney stopped the looping ball dead over his shoulder, cushioning it with his right foot to twist away from two backpedalling Arsenal defenders.

Rooney's first touch elicited a sense of audible awe from the home faithful. His second allowed him to assess his options. By the time he took his third – this one slightly heavier to give him a run-up – his mind had been made up as he prepared to swing his right boot from 25 yards out, just to the left of centre.

Moments later, Seaman was on his knees, the back of the net was rippling, and the ball was bouncing back down to earth, having clipped in off the underside of the crossbar on its way in. Rooney was wheeling away, and commentator Tyldesley was about to say those famous words.

Goodison Park was in delirium, shaking to the wooden rafters. The Grand Old Lady rocking for English football's new favourite son.

Remember the goal, not just the name

Of course, Rooney scored so many goals, it is hard to pick his very best – one from inside his own half for United against West Ham (he also scored a similar goal against the Hammers in his second spell at Everton) comes to mind, as does a sublime solo goal against Leeds United not long after his winner against Arsenal, his outrageous volley against Newcastle United after an angry tirade at the referee and that stunning bicycle kick in a 2011 Manchester derby.

But does his first Premier League goal get the recognition it deserves?

The poise, vision and control Rooney displayed with his first two touches were a showcase of the natural talent he possessed. Not long out of school, Rooney's skill wouldn't have looked out of place had he been playing in the opposite colours that day for a team who would go on to become 'The Invincibles' the following season.

There is also the arrogance and confidence to look up and, with Arsenal's formidable defence – made up of Lauren, Sol Campbell, Pascal Cygan and Ashley Cole in front of England's number one goalkeeper of 15 years – ahead of him, choose to go for goal.

The odds were clearly stacked against Rooney. The expected goals data is not available for this goal, but you would hazard a guess it would be of low value.

Shortly afterwards, with Everton looking to see the game out, Rooney actually very nearly bettered his breakthrough goal, chipping Seaman from close to 30 yards, again showing the exuberance of youth mixed with world-class quality.

The Toffees used that victory as a springboard, the first in a sequence of six straight wins – all by a one-goal margin, with Rooney netting that sole strike at Leeds. The teenager did not start another top-flight game until December, however, as Moyes attempted to manage expectations and keep the pressure off a boy, as Campbell said, destined for greatness.

Rooney's name will be remembered among the very best, he made sure of that. But the goal that started it all deserves to be remembered as one of his best, too.

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