London, Aug 31: Wayne Rooney is back in explosive form after trying to resolve the stresses in his life.
For one, the Manchester United and England striker concluded his head was just not right. Alarmed by his thinning thatch, Rooney risked ridicule in the offseason by undergoing a $50,000 hair transplant.
And the results—like United's this season—are unequivocal, with those new follicles now covering his scalp.
“I've spent more time in the mirror,” Rooney quipped Tuesday at the England team hotel. “I'm sure some of you who are going bald, it's a bit stressful. So I made a decision to get it done. I thought, why not?”
It came at the end of a season to forget for Rooney, aside from another Premier League winner's medal.
Exactly a year ago, while also on England duty, Rooney woke up to lurid tabloid claims that he cheated repeatedly on his then-pregnant wife Coleen with a prostitute.
Rooney's public stock was already at rock bottom after failing to score at the 2010 World Cup where he complained about fans' jeers into a TV camera.
Even Rooney's club did not prove to be a sanctuary, with the 25-year-old forward enraging United fans and teammates in October by publicly threatening to quit. But after complaining about United's inability to compete in the transfer market for top players, Rooney was soon rewarded with a lucrative new contract.
“What I did was wrong,” he said. “I am thankful that I stayed and signed. It's the best decision I have made in my football career.”
He quickly began to repay United, attributing his resurgence to a New Year's Day goal against West Bromwich Albion—the first from open play in nine months—that propelled his team to a record-breaking 19th English title.
Although there was a further blotch on his character—being banned for swearing into a TV camera—at least it came while scoring a hat trick.
Just as he did on Sunday in a 8-2 rout of Arsenal, taking his tally to five goals in United's opening hat trick of wins.
“It was frustrating (last season) because I knew I could do better,” he said. “I was working hard in training and in games but things weren't coming off. It is hard to come to terms with that.
“It would have been quite easy to lose confidence in myself and my ability to come back to my best. Obviously I saw people on TV or in the newspapers questioning me but in a way that helped because I wanted to prove they were wrong. It made me more angry and willing to get back to doing it.”
Now a veteran of a United side being packed with emerging talent by Alex Ferguson, Rooney knows he has to shoulder greater responsibilities for both club and country.
“There have been times when I have been more aggressive and gone in for silly challenges, but I am not really doing that anymore,” he said. “Sometimes it happens and it's hard to control, but if you stay in control, your performances will be better. And at the moment, I feel good.”
That newfound confidence extends to the media, smiling and self-deprecating while even confessing to ignoring the offseason fitness regime set by United.
Rooney just needed a summer without football, spent with his family on beaches and the Glastonbury music festival.
“At the end of the season, I made a decision to do no training whatsoever in the summer,” he said. “I honestly didn't lift any weights or run. Nothing. The fitness coach gave me a program to follow but I left it behind.
“I had to watch what I was eating because I am the type of person who could easily put on a lot of weight. I was a couple of kilos over when I came back to training but it's easy enough to lose with the work we do in preseason and I certainly feel that has benefited me.”
The five goals in three games for United are evidence of that.
And Rooney feels in the right frame of mind going into his first England matches since March, with 2012 European Championship qualifiers at Bulgaria on Saturday and at home to Wales four days later.
“I am in a happy place, both on and off the pitch,” he said.
“I'm over (the problems) now,” he added. “I want to put it behind me and keep moving on and moving forward.” AP