The unforgettable 2006 World Cup is a sore memory for England supporters, largely due to the nation’s exit at the quarter-finals despite having an immensely talented ‘Golden Generation’. Among the notable players in that team were David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, and the youthful 20-year-old prodigy, Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately, the Sven-Goran Eriksson-coached side fell at the quarter-final hurdle against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen after a dramatic penalty shootout. The match is best remembered for a contentious incident that saw Wayne Rooney receive a red card.
Rooney was sent off following a heated tangle with Ricardo Carvalho, which Cristiano Ronaldo, a teammate of Rooney at Manchester United at the time, brought to the referee Horacio Elizondo’s attention. In what was a shocking betrayal for Rooney, he was subsequently shown the red card and Ronaldo’s wink to the Portugal bench was seen by many England supporters as an ‘objective accomplished’ signal.
#OnThisDay 1st of July 2006
That Rooney red card and that wink from Ronaldo.pic.twitter.com/HM13eiXcI3
— 𝘾𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙤𝙣𝙖 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙖𝙧𝙨 – aka Larry 🇾🇪 (@Cantona_Collars) July 1, 2023
The situation was made even more unbearable when Ronaldo converted the decisive penalty to eject England from the tournament.
The subsequent reactions of the English players were revealed by Peter Crouch, who was a substitute in that match, during an episode of his podcast.
Crouch shared his disbelief at the prospect of Rooney and Ronaldo ever reconciling or playing together again. Recalling the events of that day on his podcast, he said, “I was on the bus on the way back from the game. We see the footage of him winking and Rooney’s not happy, obviously, he’s fuming.”
Crouch confirmed that there were heated words exchanged between Rooney and Ronaldo post-match, with Rooney initially declaring he would never speak to Ronaldo again.
“I think that did happen [Rooney texting Ronaldo asking ‘what the f*** was that?’]. There were definitely words exchanged.
“At first he was like ‘I’m never talking to him again’, ‘I’m not going to go back there and speak to him’.”
There was also anger from Gary Neville, another Manchester United teammate, and the mood on the team bus was the most somber Crouch had ever experienced.
“I remember Gary Neville was angry – obviously a teammate of Ronaldo’s – I remember us being so down and Wayne being gutted about it.”
The former Liverpool striker added: “I left that camp thinking that Rooney and Ronaldo would never speak again. I left that World Cup thinking [Man Utd] would have to sell him. I didn’t think they’d sell Rooney, I thought they’d get a load of money for Ronaldo.
“I just thought Ronaldo has basically cheated him out of it, Wayne was getting a lot of stick back at home after going at the World Cup. I never thought they could ever share the same pitch again. And then I watched the season after and they were absolutely unbelievable together.”
Despite Crouch leaving the World Cup expecting United to sell Ronaldo, he was astonished to see both players form a formidable partnership in the following seasons. Their combined efforts contributed to Manchester United’s Premier League triumphs in the 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 seasons, and they also clinched the Champions League in 2007-08.
The way both players navigated this contentious situation, particularly Rooney, deserves commendation. Instead of harbouring resentment, he chose to forgive, forget, and focus on the collective success of the team.