By STEVEN HOWARD
HE has not scored a goal at a major tournament since June 21, 2004.
A scarcely believable eight years since his double against Croatia in Lisbon.
In 2006, he was sent off for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho in Gelsenkirchen.
In 2008, he and England did not even take part.
In 2010, he was there in South Africa but, like the rest of the team, you wouldn’t have realised it.
He would then let down the fans who have always given him unconditional support with a throwaway remark to a TV camera about “It’s nice to see your own fans booing you” after the horrendous 0-0 draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
Here, at Euro 2012, he has missed the opening two games after his needless red card last October in the qualifier in Montenegro.
So now the moment has finally arrived for Wayne Rooney.
Yesterday, he offered an apology for a run at international level that makes no sense when you consider his basic talent and his enormous success at Manchester United.
Rooney, who returns against Ukraine in Donetsk tomorrow in a match England need only to draw to qualify for the quarter-finals, was man enough to confess:
“I owe England something. I set myself high standards, I work hard at my game but I haven’t been good enough at the major tournaments.
“So I hope this is my moment and I will be doing everything to make sure it is. England are a massive football team and a massive football nation. But for as long as I can remember, we haven’t delivered.
“Our country needs to be winning trophies and with this great group of young players we really have a chance.”
Rooney, an eight-year veteran of world football at just 26, cut an impressive and sympathetic figure yesterday as he spoke to the media.
We know all about the off-field stories and his aggressive attitude on it.
But here was gentility — and a softness, if I am not getting too soft myself — reflected in the arrival last Wednesday of his young son in a No 10 shirt bearing the words, “Can’t wait to see you, Daddy”.
There was also regret.
He said: “I’m capable of far more than I have shown for England. As a player, you have bad moments and sometimes you have to go through those to experience the good ones.
“All those things that happened . . . well, I didn’t want them to, no one wants that kind of thing.
“In Montenegro, it wasn’t something I set out to do. I didn’t think, ‘Right, I’m going to kick that player’.
“I understood straight away it was a mistake and I had to take my punishment. I’ve no complaints.”
Since then, he has been booked only once. As for his state of mind considering the enormous pressure on him at the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal that saw him red-carded, he said: “I have proved since Montenegro I can control myself. I have no problems with my attitude or temperament. I’m happy within myself and I’m ready to play.”
But he fully admitted he got lucky and that if the original three-game ban had stayed in place, he would not have been here talking to us.
Rooney also paid tribute to the role former boss Fabio Capello played in getting his suspension reduced.
He said: “Capello fought really hard for me and I will always be grateful.
“He basically said if there was a one per cent chance of getting the ban down to two games we had to try.”
But he did admit the extraordinarily long build-up to Capello’s South African campaign had, as we always suspected, got to the players.
Then it was Sgt Major Capello. Now it is the more relaxed, easy-going, less-strict-but-very-English regime of Roy Hodgson. And, so far, it is working.
In as frank a concession as we have had from a current England player, he said: “We went to Austria for two weeks and by the time we got to South Africa our heads had gone.
“It was a long process, it felt like it really dragged out.
“Now the tournament feels shorter. This squad is really happy, we’re in the games room together, in an out of each other’s rooms and enjoying it.”
This tranquillity was reflected in Rooney’s disposition yesterday.
But he was under no illusions about what he faces tomorrow against co-hosts Ukraine, who only need to repeat Greece’s shock 1-0 win over Russia to put England out.
Rooney added: “It’s important I feel my way into the game in the first 20 minutes, do the simple things and make sure my touch is right.
“Yes, everyone is talking about me coming back but one thing is certain — this is a team game and I’m not going to win the Euros on my own.
“As a player, I have changed since 2004. I was 18 and you don’t know football as well as you think you do.
“The older you get, you have to change your game and see things differently to progress.
“It’s paid off with United but, unfortunately, not so much at international level.
“Hopefully, it will this time.”