It’s time for Wayne’s world

Rooney (right) scores his side's first goal of the game during the friendly against Ecuador on Wednesday
Rooney (right) scores his side's first goal of the game during the friendly against Ecuador on Wednesday
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Sven-Goran Eriksson shouldered the blame for many of England’s failures during his time in charge of the national side.

But one that often goes unnoticed was his dubious decision to publicly proclaim Wayne Rooney as the new Pele.

As Eriksson sat down to address the media in the bowels of the newly-refurbished Estadio da Luz on June 21, 2004, he used Rooney’s name in the same breath as the best footballer of all time.

“I don’t remember anyone making such a big impact on a tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup...he’s a complete footballer,” the then England manager said.

The Swede was flush with emotion after watching Rooney fire England into the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 with a well-taken double against Croatia.

His first – a 20-yard screamer that totally bamboozled the Croatian goalkeeper – and his second, a calm finish following a deep run that began inside his own half, were top-class strikes.

The two goals Rooney scored against Switzerland were also was also impressive.

But did these performances merit a comparison with the man regarded as the finest player to have ever kicked a ball?

No. It was a mistake.

There were faint reasons to justify the comparison, of course. Rooney became the youngest player in European Championship history with his first goal against Switzerland, just as Pele became the youngest to find the net in World Cup history against Switzerland in 1958.

But overall it was a bad move. Eriksson meant it as a compliment but instead those words have weighed heavy on Rooney’s shoulders ever since.

Every time he puts on an England shirt at a major finals, Rooney is weighed down by so much pressure it is like he is wearing a lead vest underneath the Three Lions which sit proudly on his chest.

Rooney’s only goal in the three major finals that he has played in since 2004 was two years ago, at Euro 2012.

That is a record Pele would wince at.

In the 2006 World Cup, hindered by an injury to that famous fourth metatarsal in his right foot, Rooney drew a blank against Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden and Ecuador – flyweights of international football – before he was sent off against Portugal as Eriksson’s team went home from Germany with nothing.

Four years later in South Africa, again struggling with injury, Rooney could not find the net against the United States and Slovenia, while the striker famously lost his cool down the lens of a television camera after the goalless draw against Algeria, criticising the England fans who booed the team off.

Rooney also flopped in the embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Germany in the second round.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who had watched Rooney bang in 34 goals for United that year, said his star striker could not deal with the pressure on his shoulders at the 2010 World Cup.

“There was such expectation on him,” the former United manager said.

“There was talk that he was going to be the player of the tournament, that he was going to outshine Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and he’s not got great experience of World Cups really. You wait, though. In four years’ time you will see a different player.”

Will Ferguson be right? Will the real Wayne Rooney 
stand up in Brazil just as so many England fans want him to?

Rooney missed the last three games of United’s season with a groin problem, which came a month after a toe injury which prevented him from kicking a ball properly, according to then manager David Moyes.

But the striker is so determined to be fit that he took two physios on holiday with him to Portugal at the end of the season.

“This time I honestly feel good,” the former Everton striker said.

“I have looked after myself as well as I can to be as fit as I can for this tournament. I will be ready. I’m looking forward to it.”

There is more good news. The fact that Rooney will share the spotlight with Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana – who have all been on fire this year – will reduce the pressure on England’s biggest talisman.

Unlike Eriksson, Roy Hodgson is wise enough to dodge comparisons between his own players and the best in the world – either past or present.

The England manager knows Rooney’s physical and mental state will be key to his chances of success in the sweltering heat of Brazil.

And the 66-year-old thinks this time Rooney will not fail.

“This is the perfect opportunity for him to prove to people around the world what we already know - that he is a very, very gifted footballer, capable of playing in many positions and someone who is a leading light in his team, which is one of the best in the world,” he said.

“It would be nice to see him reproducing that form for England and I am confident he will.”

Rooney does not have enough time to rack up three World Cup winner’s medals like Pele did but that will not matter to the striker and his legions of fans.

One will be enough.