Wayne Rooney on his #U17EURO start for England

Playing in the 2002 UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals left a lasting impression on England's record scorer Wayne Rooney - the tournament ambassador for this year's finals in England.

Wayne Rooney at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship draw
Wayne Rooney at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship draw ©UEFA.com

In 2002 a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney got his first competitive international experience helping England to third place in the first UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Denmark, scoring a hat-trick to beat Spain 4-1 for bronze.

Within a year Rooney had broken into the senior teams for Everton and England, with who he was the first footballer to score 50 international goals. Now the U17 EURO is coming to England, kicking off today, and tournament ambassador Rooney helped make the draw. He spoke about what the competition means to him.

Tell us about your memories of playing in the competition.

It was a great time to get chosen to play for England at Under-17 level, and it was a great tournament. We got beaten in the semi-final but it was a great experience. It's a time of your career when you're still developing, but you really enjoy it and you enjoy the new challenges.

You were the tournament's top scorer. How much did it propel you on?

I got used to scoring goals for my country, which at any level is a great moment. I remember throughout the tournament I actually wore Paul Bracewell's boots. Obviously, he was a former Everton player, so to wear his boots and become top goalscorer in them was amazing. But looking back, it was a fantastic moment, a great time to play and try to develop yourself as a footballer.

What will it mean for these youngsters to play a tournament on home soil?

Rooney with England's U17s in 2002
Rooney with England's U17s in 2002©UEFA.com

Certainly in my case, all I wanted to do was play a tournament in England. I think it's brilliant for them to play against different players from different backgrounds and different cultures, [who were] brought up differently in terms of how they play football, and to see where you're at, to see what level you are, but also to try and get you into the rhythm of playing tournament football. The more experience you can get doing that is great for them growing up.

The likes of yourself, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo have all played in this competition down the years. It's kind of a Who's Who of top players ...

Yes, it is, and I think these tournaments can catapult players on to the next level, into the first teams in whatever clubs they're at. That's the excitement for fans watching these tournaments – looking out for players from their clubs and other clubs, to see which one of those players is going to go on and become the next big superstar and big name in football. I'm sure it's exciting for the young players involved to be on TV and playing in front of big crowds as well. It's going to be a great moment for them.

Why should fans come and support England this summer?

Rooney celebrates scoring at UEFA EURO 2016
Rooney celebrates scoring at UEFA EURO 2016©AFP/Getty Images

It's important that everyone gets behind England. England have done really well in the last few tournaments. As I said before, it's exciting to see which players are going to do well, which young lads are going to come through. It's almost the start of their careers, you can monitor how someone does from [being] a young lad [to] going into the senior team. You never know, you might get someone who comes through and becomes a superstar, and the fans can say: "I was there the day he did well for England."

How encouraging has it been to see the recent success of England's junior teams?

It's great for all the England players, for the fans and for the country to have success. In previous years we've always seen Spain and Germany's youth teams winning trophies, and we've been asking questions why England aren't. But you can see that progress is being made, players are getting better, I think the coaches are getting better. I think that's only good for English football.

Can achievements at youth level lead to success at senior level?

Yes, without doubt. There are things you can show in these games which can make your club manager stand up and think, "Well he's got a chance, I'm going to take a chance on him, give him a go." It happened with me in the FA Youth Cup. I'd done well and David Moyes came in the dressing room and said that I'd be with the first team next season, so on the back of playing in this game – it was at Goodison Park, playing in a big stadium – I think the coach could see how they [young players] can handle the atmosphere as well.

This article appears in the official 2017/18 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final tournament programme 

Top