‘Wayne’s World’ looked something special as a fresh-faced Rooney, 18, made his debut at a major tournament in Portugal and scored four goals to lead England to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004.
Despite breaking his foot and seeing England crash-out to the host nation, the teenage terror had made his mark and had given an entire nation an exciting glimpse into the future.
He didn’t know it at the time – but that was as good as it was ever going to get in a Three Lions shirt for the most iconic English footballer of his generation.
Rooney went on to become his country’s captain and all-time leading goalscorer, beating Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record. Fittingly, the moment came at Wembley on September 8, 2015 with his 50th goal for his country.
It is a remarkable achievement and his final tally of 53 goals might never be broken.
But as Rooney grows old he will look back on his time with England and find it impossible not to wonder what might have been.
After announcing his retirement from international football yesterday, he said: “One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side.”
No-one can take his 119 caps off him (he is the most capped outfield star of all time) and no-one can question his passion, commitment and total devotion to England.
But on the flip side, no-one can also question the fact Rooney went on to struggle to make an impact at major tournaments after 2004.
He scored just one goal at the three World Cups he took part in and just three in total in the five major tournaments he was involved in following his dramatic debut 13 years ago.
There were red cards, infamous rants born out of frustration and some epic lows, culminating in last summer’s humiliating exit to Iceland at Euro 2016 in Nice.
Yet there are mitigating circumstances surrounding Rooney and his career in the most famous and treasured shirt in English football.
For the past few years he has almost carried the national team on his back.
Timing is everything and Rooney just happened to be in his prime when England had a poor team.
Such has been his unflinching desire to represent his country that Rooney has also been to tournaments when he wasn’t fit.
The most glaring example was in 2006 at the World Cup in Germany, when Rooney turned up late having nursed a broken metatarsal and once again failed to make an impression.
It was understandable though.
Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring for Everton
His ultimate dream was to win a World Cup or European Championship for England, – it never came close to happening.
But when the years roll on it can only be hoped that football supporters learn to cherish how good Rooney actually was.
For longer than we care to remember he was one of the few world-class superstars we had. He was head and shoulders the best player we had.
The statistics prove what an impact he had at the highest level and, while he made a few mistakes along the way, Rooney always gave his all to the cause. He appreciated how special the privilege was.
Not everyone who has enjoyed that same privilege can look in the mirror and say the same thing.
It will have killed Rooney to have turned his back on England.
But considering the fact he has been eased out of the picture since Gareth Southgate became boss then his decision could prove to be the right one.
Just like it is right for those who love football to appreciate how much Rooney did for England.
It might be a long, long time before we see his like again.