England return to Gelsenkirchen: Where Rooney lost his head and Ronaldo ‘celebrated’ with a wink

Wayne Rooney on Ricardo Carvalho of Portugal

He became immortalised as a dastardly villain via the nickname ‘The Winker’, but how did Cristiano Ronaldo’s part in Wayne Rooney’s 2006 sending-off go down at the time? As England return to Gelsenkirchen to face Serbia, we travel back to the England v Portugal World Cup quarter-final there in 2006 when England’s talisman came into the match still recovering from a broken metatarsal.

Rooney, being played as a lone workhorse up front in a 4-1-4-1, was trying his hardest in a role that didn’t suit him. He’d miskicked an excellent chance not long before and generally looked laboured and increasingly cranky. He got involved in a battle for the ball with Ricardo Carvalho on 62 minutes. Horacio Elizondo could have blown the whistle at any point during the tussle and awarded a kick either way but let it run until Rooney made clear contact. Oh dear.

Gary Lineker wrote in his Sunday Telegraph column: “I think when it comes to diving and feigning injury, we [England] do have the right to take the moral high ground. If Wayne Rooney had been playing for any other team, he would have gone down because Carvalho was trying to chop him from behind instead of trying to battle free.”

Be that as it may, Rooney did lash out at Carvalho, stamping on his groin. It immediately called to mind the petulant kick from David Beckham on Diego Simeone eight years previously. It was right under the referee’s nose.

Ronaldo, who had been electric in the game up to that point, raced up and remonstrated with the referee. Rooney pushed him and gave him a few choice words. Shortly afterwards, the referee brandished the red.

The debate immediately started in the BBC TV studio, and beyond, as to whether Rooney had been dismissed for the contact on Carvalho’s gentleman’s area or whether he’d been sent off for shoving Ronaldo, or if the man in the middle had been talked into the red card by the shrieking Portuguese. Referee Elizondo, speaking to FourFourTwo magazine later, was unequivocal: “He stamped on Carvalho’s groin. That is a straight red card in any country.”

However, many took the same view as Alan Shearer at the time: “The ref’s not doing anything until Ronaldo comes in.”

The Argentine referee, incidentally, claimed that Rooney “was complaining all the time, always coming close to you and saying ‘referee’ this, ‘referee’ that. Protests and more protests. He reminded me of my kids.” So, at the very least, we can conclude that Rooney didn’t have a lot of goodwill in the tank with the official.

Supporting his claim that it was the stamp wot done it, Elizondo said that Sven-Goran Eriksson had come to see him in the referee’s room afterwards and queried: “Rooney stamped on him, didn’t he?” Elizondo says that he confirmed this and, he says, Sven sighed: “I can’t understand how a professional player can react like that.”

Rooney thus became the third England player to be sent off in a World Cup after Beckham, and Ray Wilkins at Mexico 1986.

Rooney himself said: “It was a reaction to the referee not giving me a free-kick. There was a clear foul, Carvalho was pulling and pushing me. Elizondo did nothing and I planted my foot down on Carvalho: it was one of those moments when you’re not thinking. I knew it was a red card.”

Ronaldo enrages an entire nation

After Rooney exited, the TV cameras captured Ronaldo giving a little wink to the Portugal bench, as if to say: “I made that happen”. Ian Wright said: “Look at that... has he just winked there?” Shearer spoke for the nation. “I think there is every chance that Wayne Rooney could go back to the United training ground and stick one on Ronaldo.”

For a certain sort of English football fan it confirmed everything they’d suspected about Foreigners, continental fancy dans with their mastery of the dark arts and so on. The Young Ronaldo, sleek and supremely self-satisfied, could not have been better cast.

Cristiano Ronaldo winks to the Portugal bench after Wayne Rooney is dismissed at the 2006 World Cup
Cristiano Ronaldo's infamous wink to the Portugal bench after Rooney was dismissed - Gavin Rodgers

The match, of course, went to penalties and England, of course, lost.

There was immediate outrage in living rooms and pubs about the wink but the newspapers the next day generally didn’t focus on that. They covered the match, the seemingly unbreakable curse of penalties and the tournament exit. Many laid the blame on Eriksson for his formation.

Paddy Barclay’s piece in the Sunday Telegraph was headlined: “Rooney falls victim to English impatience”. The News Of The World asked: “Did he have a sc-Roo loose?” Clever. The first recorded usage of “The Winker” in newsprint was by Shaun Custis in The Sun a few days later but it was a slow-burner rather than something that everyone immediately got and found funny all at once like, for instance, Wagatha Christie.

Social media wasn’t widely used until 2007 onwards and if it were to happen today – let’s say Toni Kroos or Dani Carvajal were to get Real Madrid colleague Jude Bellingham sent off and do a muggy side-eye to the cameras about it – this would no question be the talking point that dwarfed all others.

Ferguson acts as peace-maker

As it turned out, Rooney didn’t attack Ronaldo back at Carrington, thanks in part to masterful man-management from Sir Alex Ferguson. Gary Neville explained on Sky Sports: “First day back in pre-season I was called into the office with Wayne and Cristiano by the manager to sit down and he wanted to see if there were any problems or hangover. They shook hands and there was no problem whatsoever.”

Ronaldo himself said: “I had a chat with Rooney when I arrived back in Manchester. We are still friends, we speak about that and he understands my point of view. Of course, he helped me in all circumstances. He said: “Cristiano, this is the past, let’s speak about the present, let’s win trophies together”.”

Doesn’t quite capture Rooney’s way of speaking, does it? But whatever you say, Mr Winker.

Sir Alex said: “He was not winking having got Rooney sent off. He was winking because his bench was telling him to ‘calm down’. And Wazza knew he was not sent off because of Ronaldo. He was sent off because of the tackle on the Portuguese player.”

Was it all fair in love and war, then? Rooney himself said: “I put myself in Ronaldo’s shoes. Would I do the same? Probably. Would I be in the ref’s face to make sure he got sent off? If he deserved the red, if it would help us win – yes, no question. I’d do it tomorrow. And the wink thing, I didn’t see anything in that at all, it was nothing.”

Not quite nothing, though: Rooney admitted that Ronaldo had probably done him a huge favour. “I didn’t really get any stick,” he said about leaving England in the lurch with 10 men. Don’t forget: David Beckham was hanged in effigy for the same. “Ronaldo took a lot of it and I was pleased about that. I still got it when I played for my club but that is just normal. In that instance, I know I could have taken a lot more.”