Often, we only truly appreciate something when it’s gone, and there is no better example than Manchester United and England record goalscorer Wayne Rooney.
To be both of those things makes the 35-year-old, who just hung up his boots to become Derby manager, one of the game’s all-time greats.
It’s easy to forget Rooney was so good for so longGetty Images – Getty
Rooney has his place in football’s history booksGetty Images – Getty
It’s clear to see now that Rooney is among the best players this country has ever produced, but it didn’t always feel like that when he was playing.
No matter how many goals he scored, how many titles he won, or how much outrageous talent he showed – some were never truly convinced of his greatness.
But there was never any doubt among his peers. From teammates to rivals, the top players from this generation all knew Rooney was alongside them.
Rooney won it all at UnitedGetty Images – Getty
Lionel Messi said in 2010: “There has always been a great deal of respect between myself and Wayne Rooney. For me he is the great English player of the generation. What he is capable of doing on the field is very special, and he is one of the few players that would improve any squad in Europe
“It would be a dream to play with Rooney if Manchester United ever came to the point where they needed to sell him.
“I would personally go to the Barcelona president and ask that he be signed myself.
“There are always a handful of players in the world at any one time who can go down in the footballing history books.
“At the moment, there are maybe Ronaldo, Rooney, Xavi and one or two more – but I can’t think of one that plays with the desire of Rooney.”
Messi was a huge admirer of RooneyGetty Images – Getty
And Cristiano Ronaldo, who was a friend of Rooney’s despite their falling out at the 2006 World Cup, held him in similar regard.
“He was the kid of England, everyone loved him,” Ronaldo once said. “He was so powerful I was calling him ‘Pitbull.’
“The power of Wayne Rooney is his mentality and strength and he never stops. He’s a fantastic team player and he scores.”
Another great rival, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, suggests Rooney was always underappreciated throughout his career.
“You will only truly appreciate Rooney when he has retired,” Henry said. “It’s a shame but it’s always like that.
Rooney and Ronaldo starred in an incredible Man United teamGetty Images – Getty
“To play well for six months or a season in football is nothing. To do so for over a decade like Rooney is extraordinary.
“I know what it takes and it isn’t easy. Trust me, people talk about him outside of this country.
“In Spain and France, he is appreciated as a top, top player.”
At the end of the day, the record books will do the talking for Rooney, and future generations will reflect on him as one of the greatest English players in history.
Rooney will go down as one of the greatsGetty Images – Getty
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