England's Rooney proud to have moved with the times

"At the time I was the youngest player to score in the tournament," said Wayne Rooney, remembering his first EURO goal, but – now 30 – he is proud to have moved with his game.

Wayne Rooney holds forth at an England press conference
Wayne Rooney holds forth at an England press conference ©Panoramic

Wayne Rooney stood inside the Stade Vélodrome early on Friday evening and let his mind wander back 12 years to his first goal at a UEFA European Championship – against Switzerland on 17 June 2004.

He was responding to a question provided by a fan on Twitter about his favourite EURO moment and it led Rooney to reflect: "I'd have to say my first goal. At the time I was the youngest player to score in the tournament."

There have been so many goals, so many golden moments for England's record marksman since then, yet 12 years on, the great white hope of English football is now the 30-year-old veteran of his national team – and the subject of some less comfortable questioning on the eve of the Group B fixture against Russia.

It was a Russian journalist who put Rooney on the spot by suggesting he was considered a fading force over in Russia.

Rooney responded with impressive maturity, saying: "I know the qualities I have and I don't have to sit here and defend myself. I've played the game for a lot of years, I'm aware my game has changed slightly over the years and, in my opinion, it has changed for the better."

It was a deft response, and it is only natural that Rooney – after almost 600 club appearances and 111 for his country – should be a different player, no longer the raging bullock we saw on the playing fields of Portugal in 2004, smashing past defenders and smacking in four goals.

This Rooney ended the season by helping Manchester United win the FA Cup from a deeper-lying midfield berth. With Harry Kane's emergence, he is no longer England's leading striker either – and is expected to operate somewhere behind the Tottenham man in France.

"My favourite position is being on the pitch," he said of this shift, before elaborating on his move into a deeper role. "I've changed my game slightly, I've played with players who've done that over the years and have probably been better players. It is natural as a footballer to do that – in the last few months for Manchester United I've played in midfield [and] I feel with my football intelligence I can play there and further my career there."

What should be added is that the author of a record 52 England goals still has a key part in an inexperienced England side. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Robbie Keane have more international goals at France 2016 and the way Rooney accompanied Marcus Rashford, 18, through his first FA interview this week highlighted his importance as a captain.

He went on: "Young lads [play without fear] and I did it when I broke into the team in 2003 – it's just more a case of the manager and coaching staff and myself telling the players how good they are because we have a talented group of players and we need the players to have that belief themselves." After all, as Rooney showed us in 2004, if you're good enough, you're old enough.

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