LONDON - Wayne Rooney could become England's greatest soccer player. Then again, he could wind up a bust long before he's 30.
Rooney turns 21 today, and the jury's still out on how good - or disappointing - the England and Manchester United striker will be.
The pug-faced son of an amateur boxer has been making headlines for four years since he scored a spectacular Premier League goal at age 16.
Playing for Everton in October 2002 against an Arsenal team that hadn't lost in 30 games, Rooney collected the ball, pushed it into space 10 yards outside the penalty area and launched a shot that flew into the roof of the net with such power and accuracy that the goalie had no chance of getting his hands on it. The goal was one of those "wow" moments associated with the kings of the game, such as Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo or Ronaldinho.
Sadly for those hoping his arrival would lift soccer's ailing image, the other side of Rooney wasn't far behind.
Two months later, he became the youngest player sent off in a Premier League game when he was ejected for a lunging tackle. The same day, his record as the league's youngest scorer was beaten - by 72 days - by Leeds United's James Milner.
The problem with Rooney is that running alongside his rich talent is a bubbling, volcanic temper that frequently boils over.
Playing for England in a 1-0 upset loss to Northern Ireland, his rage erupted after he was shown a yellow card, ruling him out of the next qualifying game for the 2006 World Cup. When captain David Beckham tried to calm him, Rooney responded with a stream of expletives. Other red cards would follow.
Rooney has acknowledged his explosiveness and says he is doing his best to contain it. But a low-key Rooney isn't necessarily much use on the field.
He hasn't scored for United in 10 games since the start of the season, and hasn't scored in a competitive game for England since the Euro 2004 quarterfinal. Although he's looked better in the past two games, he still hasn't scored.
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