Revitalised Rooney relishing return to form
Wayne Rooney admits he has finally been able to get back to peak form this season after rediscovering his lust for life.
Rooney has started the campaign in superb form and has already scored five times for Manchester United, including a hat-trick in Sunday's incredible 8-2 demolition of Arsenal. The England striker is once again playing with boundless enthusiasm and dominating games in the manner that saw him hailed as one of the best players in the world just 18 months ago.
That was the point when Rooney injured his ankle in a UEFA Champions League tie against Bayern Munich in March 2010 and thereafter appeared to be locked in an increasingly destructive spiral that threatened to wreck his career. His road to redemption has been long and torturous but Rooney is clearly back to his old self at last.
United have already reaped the benefits and now England coach Fabio Capello will hope Rooney's renaissance can inspire his team in crucial UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria on Friday and Wales on 6 September.
"It was a tough six months. Things weren't coming off and because of my character it could have been quite easy to lose confidence in myself and my ability," Rooney said. "Obviously I saw the people on TV or newspapers questioning me. In a way it helped me because you want to prove to them that they were wrong and you can get back to your best. In some ways it makes you more angry and willing to get back to doing it.
"I'm happier now. I am enjoying it and I'm in a happy place both on and off the pitch. I am looking forward to every game that comes and playing some of the best football I have played in a long time."
After a period marred by poor performances at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, lurid stories about his personal life that threatened to ruin his marriage and a brief flirtation with the idea of leaving United, it is easy to see why 2010 was Rooney's year to forget.
The turning point came on New Year's Day 2011. Rooney was determined to put a miserable year behind him and a goal in a 2-1 win at West Brom gave him the belief he could still be a major force. "On New Years Day I was quite happy to put 2010 behind me and I was looking forward to starting the new year and I scored my first goal from open play in a while," he said. "I'm thankful that I stayed and signed. I said at the time that I had made a mistake. For me it's the best decision I've made in my football career."
At the end of such a traumatic season, it was a relief for Rooney to get away from football for five weeks during the close-season as he headed off for a family holiday in Barbados. Such was his determination to forget his day job for a while that he even decided to ignore the advice of United's fitness experts.
"The best thing for me was the five weeks in the summer when I did nothing," he said. "I honestly didn't lift any weights or run, nothing. I just wanted to get that rest which I haven't had for a while. The fitness coach gave me a programme to follow but I left it behind. I was a couple of kilos over but it's easy enough with the work you do in pre-season."
The revitalised Rooney has played his part in United's fine start to the season, but no more so than the group of youngsters thrown into the team with such startling effect by boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling - three of United's youth revolution - have all been called up by Capello for the forthcoming qualifiers and Rooney believes that bodes well for England's future.
"They have certainly excelled in the roles and been brilliant for United and they fully deserve their call into the England team," he said. "They are very exciting young players. I think everyone should be excited, maybe they give us something we haven't had before, certainly over the last 10 years."