The anger is still there within Wayne Rooney lurking just beneath the surface. But for now it is buried, replaced by the long-forgotten joy he showed as a teenage superstar.
Rooney scored the 100th goal of his club career Sunday, a remarkable achievement for a 23-year-old, as Manchester United beat local rivals Manchester City 1-0. However, more importantly for supporters of the Red Devils, England and the neutral fan, he appears to have rediscovered the exuberance and carefree attitude of his early career.
Over the past few seasons Rooney has performed to a high and consistent level, without ever taking the giant steps forward that were predicted for him. When he almost single-handedly drove England into the quarterfinals of Euro 2004 before suffering a foot injury, it seemed as though it would merely be a matter of time before he emerged as one of the world's top players. Instead, a few things like growing up, publicity and his own temper got in the way of such rapid progress.
Rooney earned his share of criticism, much of it from those frustrated seeing his unquestionable ability fail to reach its full potential. He was good, very good, but there was always the feeling that he had more to offer. All too often it was the angry side that came to the surface, with a temper seemingly ready to boil over at referees, opponents or even his teammates.
But now, as a newly married man and with an increased sense of maturity, United is reaping the benefit of having a freshly motivated and hungry Rooney in its camp.
He is currently hosting a British television program called "Street Striker," a competition which attempts to find the U.K.'s most skilled street soccer player. Just a few years removed from having his favorite soccer ball confiscated by police as he practiced in the street, Rooney is in his element.
If he continues to rekindle the pure footballing memories of his younger years and displays his current level of enthusiasm, the sky is the limit for one of world soccer's greatest talents.
The First XI
1. Get him an Advil
Big Phil Scolari is quickly discovering the pressures involved with being in charge of Chelsea, having lost his cool for the first time after his side's 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal.
The west London club is still in strong contention to win the Premiership, but Scolari must be seriously concerned about Chelsea's home form. In recent years, Chelsea had been invincible at Stamford Bridge, compiling an 86-game unbeaten streak. Now, that aura has been lifted, with the Blues managing just one point in their home games against contenders Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Scolari verbally lashed out at match officials following Sunday's result, yet the cause of the problem lies closer to home. Quite simply, the Brazilian is struggling to sufficiently motivate his players for big games, a situation he needs to rectify quickly or face a season of failure.
2. Get them a beer
Real Madrid boss Bernd Schuster could be the latest to add to Spain's soaring unemployment levels after a demoralizing 3-1 defeat at Getafe. Getafe's Uruguayan forward Juan Albin produced a superb display, scoring twice and setting up a third to put the unpopular coach's head on the chopping block.
Both men were in need of a brew this weekend – Schuster to drown his sorrows as his side fell six points behind Barcelona and Albin to celebrate his latest excellent performance.
3. Get me some earplugs
Sunday's Manchester derby was a fiercely fought game and played in appropriately competitive spirit. However, some disgraceful individuals sought to blacken the day with sick and moronic chanting that has no place in the modern game.
More than 50 years since the Munich air disaster that claimed 23 lives on a Man United charter, a vocal minority of City fans still made crashing airplane movements in the stands and referred to United players as "dirty Munich [expletive]."
Local derbies are supposed to generate passion and tribalism, but this sort of behavior must no longer be tolerated. The actions of these idiots unfortunately reflect poorly on City, a fine club that is trying hard to move in the right direction both on and off the field.
4. Four corners
• Does any striker in Europe look more confident than 34-year-old Alessandro Del Piero right now?
• Is Jose Mourinho determined to be disliked by Inter Milan fans?
• Has the Houston Dynamo helped save MLS's reputation by becoming the league's only representative in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals?
• Will Juan Roman Riquelme's outstanding form for Boca Juniors persuade another big European club to take a chance on him next season?
5. Catch a flight to …
Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is a picturesque and vibrant place to visit any time of year, especially as winter kicks in. Thursday's UEFA Cup clash between FC Kobenhavn and Rosenborg will go a long way toward deciding who emerges from Group G.
6. A round of applause for …
• Brad Friedel – That's 167 consecutive EPL appearances and counting for the veteran American keeper, one of the most consistent stoppers in the league.
• Liverpool and Everton – They reduced their ticket prices in line with U.K. government cuts in goods tax.
• Jozy Altidore – He impressed in a rare start for Villarreal and contributed to a 2-1 victory over Recreativo Huelva.
• U.S. under-20 women's team – The Americans qualified for the semifinals of the U-20 World Cup with a 3-0 victory against England.
7. Get them a Kleenex
• Michael Bradley – The U.S. midfielder scored an own goal as his struggling Borussia Moenchengladbach team lost to relegation rivals Energie Cottbus.
• AC Milan – The Italian giants finished a tough week in disappointing fashion, with a rugged 2-2 draw at Portsmouth in UEFA Cup and a 3-1 pounding against Palermo in Serie A.
• Leeds United – The 2001 Champions League semifinalist was knocked out of the FA Cup by nonleague Histon, the latest setback in the bleak recent history of a proud club.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Fernando Morientes. Rumors linking Morientes continue to persist as the Spanish striker struggles to see playing time with Valencia. Could he be productive in MLS? Sure. Would he be painfully expensive? Absolutely.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Michael Parkhurst. According to the Washington Post, the New England Revolution defender is close to agreeing to a deal with an unnamed Danish club on a free transfer. The 24-year-old has been one of MLS's most productive defenders the past two seasons and hopes that moving abroad will help his national team aspirations.
10. Get excited about …
The German Bundesliga title race. It is becoming one of the most fascinating in Europe, with little Hoffenheim topping the table three points ahead of Bayern Munich after 15 matches.
Bayern will probably have too much strength in depth in the second half of the season, but if Hoffenheim can spring a shock when the sides square off next weekend, it will add even more intrigue to this David vs. Goliath story.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player …
Check out Carly Zucker, fiancee of Chelsea's Joe Cole and contestant in "I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!" on British television.