Kevin Kilbane: We lost something of the real Rooney when he lost his edge

Rooney used to play with an almighty edge, and you were never sure if he would do something daft on the pitch

Wayne Rooney, Kevin Kilbane,

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When I signed for Everton in 2003, Wayne Rooney had already made his initial impact, scoring that famous goal against Arsenal before his 17th birthday.

That was in October 2002, and I came in at the start at the following season but I could see straight away that he was an incredible talent.

He was still a boy at the time, but he was a tank of a lad that you couldn't shift off the ball, he had incredible technical ability.

He had amazing awareness, he could shoot, he could head, but he did have that little bit of edge about him as well, where he'd do something daft on the training ground like maybe lunging into a tackle or whatever it would be. That would be quite quite a regular occurrence with him.

But he just had an unbelievable appetite for training, playing and getting better as a player and that's what has taken him through.

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I think we knew at the time, as a kid, that he would go on to the next level and move on somewhere at some stage.

It was just maybe unfortunate for us at the time that he only spent a year there, because he went to the Euros in 2004 at the end of that season and we all know what happened after he had such a good tournament.

Even as a teenager, one of the outstanding things about Rooney was the physical side to his game. It was almost as if you were beside a 28 or 29-year-old man, someone who was fully developed, someone who'd had 10 years in the game, understood the game and knew the game in every aspect. 

The physicality that he brought to the team couldn't be matched by many players. We had so many strong lads in our Everton side like Joseph Yobo, Thomas Gravesen and Lee Carlsey, but even at just 17, when you saw Rooney training and playing, physically he was above and beyond all those lads.

When I first came in, he wasn't necessarily shy and retiring. He used to get involved here and there but he wasn't the most vocal. That's only natural with his age; he wasn't the sort of lad that would be talking up in meetings or giving his opinion on tactics or anything like that. Neither was he the quiet boy who would sit in the corner and say nothing for three or four years of his career, either - something that happens to a lot of young kids. 

I think he struck a good balance with that, because you knew he had that little bit of edge about him which we all felt was a good thing. He had that little bit of rawness about him as well. He was a lad from the street, which stuck out to us all.

He could handle himself both physically and verbally, so if anyone gave him stick, he'd be sharp enough to bite back and say something. But he wasn't necessarily the one that was always cracking or starting the jokes because he was still just a teenager.

I also played against him after he left for Manchester United in the summer of 2004, where he went on to play alongside talents like Cristiano Ronaldo.

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But Rooney was a standout, even in United's XI. He and Ronaldo were players that you had to pay closer attention to, whether that meant trying to get them on their weaker sides or stopping them. That sort of plan would have been in place, particularly in the early days as well with David Moyes, and even I moved on to Wigan under Paul Jewell.

You had to put something in place, because Rooney was that good. One player could have a specific role to try and prevent the ball being played through to him, meaning you were double marking or double teaming him wherever you played.

As an opposition player, what struck me when I used to watch his games was the amount of ground he covered, even when he was playing as a No 9.

Playing as a striker like that, a lot of the job is peeling away from defenders, not necessarily chasing back after them. But that willingness to contribute was what he had, and was something I saw every day in training. Simply put, he had an insatiable appetite to win the ball back when he didn't have it.

He was probably second to none on that side of it. There was hardly any striker in the Premier League that worked as hard as him when he didn't have the ball. His immediate reaction after giving the ball away was to try and win it back. 

His temperament improved as he matured, and I actually feel as though that might have been maybe a negative in one way. He wasn't getting himself caught up in some of the lesser things he didn't need to do, and it took something away from his game in many respects.

He played with an almighty edge, and you always felt it was in the balance as to whether or not you'd see Wayne Rooney lose his head today, live on the edge of being sent off, or if you'd see the other side - a complete, commanding performance.

I preferred Wayne when he was like that, when he would do something daft on the pitch. When he started to blunt that edge and take it out of his game, we lost something of the real Rooney I feel.

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This Sunday, Rooney and Manchester United are taking on Liverpool, and I feel the home side will be favourites at Old Trafford.

Given the form they're showing at the moment, that's justifiable, but more so because they're at home. We'll see a better game than we saw at Anfield earlier on this season, because there was no attacking threat or edge, it was terrible to watch to be perfectly honest.

However, we're seeing United being more clinical now and taking more chances. Liverpool are probably not at the level that they were going into that game against United, and I think that's why Mourinho set up to play the way that they did at Anfield.

With big players like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic bang on form, along with Marcus Rashford and Henrik Mkhitaryan, we're likely to see a very different game this time around.