Belfast Telegraph

World Cup: Wayne Rooney aiming to be England's smiling assassin

By Sam Wallace

Wayne Rooney said yesterday he was determined "to enjoy" his third World Cup finals to take the pressure off himself and that he hopes to deliver a performance that lives up to his reputation as the best English footballer of his generation.

And in an aside aimed squarely at his former Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney said that he did not care about personal honours or awards, but instead would measure his career in the trophies that he had won as part of a team.

In an extensive briefing with the English press, Rooney said that having failed to score in his two previous disappointing World Cup finals appearances he believed that this time he had hit on the right approach, including talks with psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters.

Rooney said that in South Africa four years ago he struggled with missing his family, but that he was capable of coping with those issues this time.

There was also another uncompromising response to Paul Scholes' criticisms that Rooney was past his peak as a footballer.

Rooney said that Scholes had "upset a few people at Manchester United" but the fact that he himself had been given a new contract by the club demonstrated the esteem in which he was held. Having looked out of sorts physically and mentally in South Africa, Rooney said this time would be different.

"I've maybe put myself under too much pressure," he said.

"Maybe you guys, the media, have put me under pressure.

"I've tried to respond to that. This time I haven't and I'm not going to. I'm going to enjoy it.

"I'm enjoying the preparations and I'm excited for this tournament.

"I'm enjoying working with the younger lads, the experienced lads. We can do well.

"I've learned to enjoy this one because I haven't enjoyed the last ones. They've not gone well.

"All of a sudden you're looking back and they've gone and I didn't enjoy it.

"This one, I'm going to enjoy regardless of what happens. I'm going to take positive memories. I hope so. At the end of the day we're here to try and do well and be successful."

He added: "I've always been hard on myself.

"I'm a confident person and I believe in my ability, so I believe I've always put myself under pressure because I know I can perform.

"I have no excuses. I know the other tournaments haven't gone well for me and, if this one doesn't, I'll have no excuses. I've prepared for it."

Italy are the opponents in the Group D opener on Saturday night, two years after they knocked England out of their last match at a major international tournament.

"I think the Italian players should be looking at us and how they can control our team," he said, ahead of facing the Group D favourites.

"We're not really too focused on (Andrea) Pirlo. He has been a fantastic player and Italy have got some great players, but we also have them.

"I think they should really be more worried about our team.

"I think we have (moved ahead of Italy).

"The team we've got, not just the team but the squad, is a youthful one, with a lot of energy and excitement.

"In terms of Italy, it is more or less the same squad so it will be an interesting game for us to see how we've moved on and how we've progressed in those two years."

Asked whether he felt that this World Cup finals would define his legacy as a footballer, Rooney said it did not concern him whether he was recognised personally.

"Listen, I'm not a player who needs that," he added.

"Like Cristiano Ronaldo, he has to have that and you admire him for having that.

"I'm more about winning things as a team. He wants to have his moments.

"It's more important for me to win trophies as part of a team.

"I've won the PFA player of the year, which is nowhere near as good as winning a trophy with United."

Rooney had the aura of someone fully focused on succeeding, both with England and also on a personal level at his third World Cup.

The forward has failed to score in his eight appearances on this stage but on Tuesday was backed to shine by Brazilian great Pele.

"It is great for him to say that," Rooney said.

"He is one of, if not the, greatest footballer ever.

"He is a great ambassador for this tournament, especially it being in Brazil, so, yeah, I'm pleased he said that."

It is a tournament in which Rooney is not only expecting to score a World Cup goal but also replace Michael Owen as England's fourth-highest scorer of all time.

"Well, I hope so," Rooney said, sitting one shy of Owen's 40-goal haul.

"If I am going to be successful in this tournament, then I will certainly be looking to equal and pass Michael's goalscoring numbers.

"Hopefully that will be in the next game."

Danny Welbeck missed England training yesterday in Rio de Janeiro as the forward tries to recover from a knee injury, but Rooney said his United team-mate would be fit to play against Italy in Manaus on Saturday.

Having been deployed as a central playmaker in Tuesday's session, Raheem Sterling was used on the left side yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph


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