It’s clear to see from Wayne Rooney’s first exclusive interview with Derby County that his passion for the game is exactly the same as it was 17 years ago.
Yes, there may be some grey hairs than what we saw when the fresh-faced youngster made his debut for Everton, but the fire that burns in his soul continues to light.
It was the year 2002, and a 16-year-old Rooney was about to embark on a journey which not even himself would have dreamed of.
Premier League titles, a Champions League winners’ medal and a record breaker for both club and country, the man is an icon. A legend, in fact.
He broke England’s all-time goalscoring record, surpassing the great Sir Bobby Charlton, whilst he also passed the same man as he became Manchester United’s highest ever goalscorer. 253 goals, to be precise.
His career has taken him away from his boyhood club and back as well as a spell in the United States of America, where he will stay until January 2020.
That is when he will join the Rams as a player-coach.
So, how does a move like this even come about? How do Sky Bet Championship side Derby County entice one of England’s greatest ever players?
Rooney explained: “It’s been a frantic last week or so but we have got the deal done to join in January and I’m looking forward to it.
“My agent spoke with the owner here, Mel Morris, and we realised there was a deal that could be done. I spoke with the manager, Phillip Cocu, and everything fitted.
“We made the decision to go with it and come here so I’m really excited to be playing back in England, of course, but also to have the opportunity to be part of the coaching staff and see how the manager works.
“It’s a great opportunity for myself but it’s also a good opportunity for me to try and help the team.
“It’s a great time and great step in my career to come here. First and foremost, I am here as a player and I can bring a lot of quality and experience to the squad.
“Hopefully I can help the club go one step further and get promotion. That’s the idea and ambition and I feel with the squad of players we have here, I can certainly help do that.”
Whilst his passion for football continues to grow, his mindset has changed over the years.
Coaching and passing on his knowledge to other aspiring youngsters is certainly an avenue he wishes to pursue.
“It’s something which I’ve always wanted to do,” Rooney admitted.
“It’s something I have strong beliefs about and this was a great opportunity for myself to start that transition from player to coach but the main thing for me is to play.
“I will come here as a player and learn as much as I can in the coaching role.”
In the short-term, Rooney is joining Derby to play. He hopes to arrive to help the Rams fight for promotion to the Premier League, a place he is accustomed to.
The 33-year-old has never played in the division but has watched a lot of games from it and knows what to expect.
“I know it’s a tough league,” he said. “There is a lot of games and it’s going to be a challenge. It’s something which I’m prepared to take.
“Derby County is a big club so I think it’s the right time for me to make this step. Derby is a club with big ambitions, they have shown that over the last couple of years, and I felt the ambitions of the club match mine in terms of where I want to go with my career.”
We look forward to welcoming you to Derby County, Wayne!