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I nutmegged Zinedine Zidane and smashed Lilian Thuram - Everton were on the phone when I got home

Have Everton ever had the best player in the world?

Some 20 years ago, Wayne Rooney thought so as he was convinced it was him but looking back on his explosive exploits at Euro 2004 when he was still Goodison Park’s ‘boy wonder’, the Scouse superstar from Croxteth admits he’d have been sent off for smashing World Cup winner Lilian Thuram on his tournament debut.

Speaking in 2022, Everton legend Colin Harvey who played for and managed his beloved Blues, told the ECHO: “In my mind there were two great players who played for Everton and by that I mean really great. One was Dixie Dean, who I never saw play, but if you look at his goalscoring record, it’s absolutely amazing and then the other one was Alan Ball.

“People say ‘what about Neville Southall?’ Nev was the best goalkeeper in the world but goalkeepers aren’t footballers.”

Harvey was never known for dishing out praise lightly, but when Rooney was still turning out for Everton’s youth teams, he described him as being like Kenny Dalglish... but quicker!

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Rooney would go on to become the most-expensive teenager in football when he joined Manchester United later that summer but he went into the European Championships in Portugal on the back of scoring nine goals in 34 Premier League games that term for an Everton side that finished 17th with just 39 points. However, from a personal perspective, he was already convinced he was the planet’s number one player.

Now 38, Rooney told the Times: “Life was simple at the age of 18. I felt no pressure, just excitement, about my first tournament.

“And I was clear in my head about something — that I was the best player in the world. It wasn’t arrogance, more fearlessness.

“It was a feeling that was almost naive: that nothing, and no one, could stop me on a football pitch. Euro 2004? I couldn’t wait.”

With four goals in as many games for England, Rooney was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament but admitted he might have endured a nightmare start had the technology used now for video refereeing existed a couple of decades ago. He said: “The first game was against France and before the match one of the press lads showed me an article where Lilian Thuram said I was too young to make an impact at the finals. In my head I was ‘OK, we’ll see . . .’

“I didn’t lose sleep about it but I decided that, if I got the chance, I’d smash him. And I did. If there was VAR I’d have been sent off.

“In the game, I had the feeling Thuram was intimidated by me. He certainly got to know who I was, that’s for sure.

“Instead of worrying about all France’s great players I just went into it thinking about what I’d do when I got on the ball, and early on I nutmegged Zinédine Zidane.

“At the time I didn’t think much of it. It was only after the game when your mates are sending you messages: ‘YOU JUST MEGGED ZIDANE!’

“We played really well but Becks missed a penalty when we were 1-0 up and Zidane scored twice late on after I was substituted. I said to Sven the next day: ‘If you left me on we wouldn’t have lost.’

“Sven just laughed. I think he liked my confidence.

"...When we got home, I had Everton on the phone, clubs coming in for me, and I went to Barbados with Coleen to get away from it all. During the tournament I’d shut myself off from the hype."