Becoming a skilful player: Wayne Rooney

Guide All Ages

Do you dream of scoring at Wembley? England’s record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, shares insight into what helped him go from kicking a ball around the house to one of the country’s greatest players.

Rooney. At 16, he was one to watch. At 18, he was already a household name.

Here, he reflects on his playing journey and points out some key factors that made him one of the best players to represent The Three Lions.


At a young age, Rooney was playing with much older players who had a physical advantage. However, understanding himself and his opponents helped him to develop his game.

“I think the first real big influence was Colin Harvey [former Everton coach], I went and played for the U19s for Colin when I was 14, and that's really when the tactical part of the game came in.

“He made me realise I was a lot smaller than the U19 players. So, I really had to focus on how I found space and how I don’t have as much physical contact with the opposition because they were too strong for me.

“That's when I started playing as a number ten, rather than a number eight or a number nine, and that's something Colin wanted me to do. I also used to study videos of Jari Litmanen [former Ajax forward] quite a lot to see how he moved to create space for himself.”


No matter what skills you want to develop in life, it’s not possible to master them without the opportunity to practise. For Rooney, taking the extra time after training to work on parts of his game was key for his development.

“I think it was 2009/2010; I didn't score many headed goals. I spent about ten months practising after training, just working on my heading and then I went on a run of scoring 15 headed goals in a row.

“So, I believe that the more time you put in, the more practice you put in, whatever that is – whether in my case, heading, whether it's your weak foot, free-kicks, penalties – then you’ll really improve.

“I always worked on free-kicks and penalties at the end of the sessions. But also, I'd go and take five corner kicks, five wide free-kicks... I'd practice shooting from the halfway line. I always felt there's going to be a chance in the game that I'm going to be taking a corner or a wide free-kick, or I'd have the opportunity to shoot from distance, so I tried to cover everything which I felt I'd be involved in.”

Obsessed with football

After breaking onto the scene with Everton, Rooney wrote his name into the history books as he went on to become Manchester United’s and England’s all-time top goalscorer. To achieve such a feat, it’s important to have great perception skills in the final third.

“To be a goalscorer is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing to do on a football pitch.

“Anticipation in the box is key. Anticipating where the ball might fall, being alive in the box, being ready.

“Also, when you're inside the box, knowing you actually have got – sometimes – a bit more time than you think. So, [it’s about] not snatching at chances, staying composed, and always being aware of where you are.”

At United, Rooney went on to win five Premier League titles and an array of other silverware. One of the fundamental characteristics he believes has helped him get to the top of the game is simple. Hard work.

“I think I've always worked hard. It's a part of the game which I feel you have to do. Every player has to give everything for the team, work hard, and if you do that, then your quality will show through.

“I think for fans as well, the least they expect is that you work hard. I think we all know we can have bad games, we can make mistakes. But the one thing there's no excuse for is not working.”

Rooney knows what it feels like to be a young player going to a first senior international tournament. After netting four goals, the then 18-year-old emerged from Euro 2004 as England’s new hero on the pitch.

Asked what advice he would give to the young players going to Euro 2020, he said, “just be yourself”– something players at all levels can take note of.

“If you've been picked for your country you've been picked for a reason: because you're good enough. So go there, be yourself, keep doing what you've been doing for your club, and enjoy it.”

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