CNN

Wayne Rooney holds the bamboo mat with one muscular hand while the other is busy mixing rice with slices of salmon and avocado.

Carefully, the former Premier League footballer, dressed in a bright orange apron, hydrates the mixture with vinegar and water, before wrapping it in one of the grilled seaweed sheets called nori.

After wetting his knife, Rooney slowly cuts the pillar of sushi into bite-sized pieces, stepping back to inspect his work.

“I doubt anyone would eat that,” he smiled shyly, turning crimson as he realized he wasn’t as good with his hands as he was with his feet.

Rolling sushi with CNN at a restaurant in Dubai, 230 meters above the iconic man-made island called the Palm Jumeirah, is a far cry from Liverpool’s Croxteth district, where Rooney was born.

Rooney is warmly welcomed by resident sushi chef Moon Kyung Soo, who cannot contain his excitement at meeting a former teammate of one of his country’s idols, South Korean Park Ji-Sung. The pair hit it off, and Chef Moon proudly names the finished concoction “The Rooney Roll.”

The Japanese dish is not a common menu item at the Rooneys, admits the former Manchester United player, who says his palette is more accustomed to spaghetti Bolognese or stir-fries.

The 37-year-old’s diet is emblematic of his character – although he has played top football for almost 20 years, he is not flashy or conceited, and is almost embarrassed to be up front the camera.

Wearing a black baseball cap, unironed chinos and an unassuming polo shirt, it’s telling that rather than his mercurial dribbling ability, boxing power or blistering pace, Rooney thinks his work ethic was instead his most great strength in the field.

“It’s an ability… the greatest skill you can have. Every day is probably what I’m most proud of,” Rooney told CNN’s Becky Anderson, while overlooking a high point of the city’s skyline, the tallest observation wheel in the world. , Ain Dubai.

England’s top scorer is in town ahead of the Globe Soccer Awards, an international ceremony that celebrates the best of the sport.

The nominees for the best male player include recent Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and the Frenchman’s Real Madrid team-mate Thibaut Courtois. In the women’s category, FC Barcelona star Alexia Putellas and England defender Lucy Bronze are in the running.

CNN has partnered with the awards, now in their 13th year, to launch the CNN Off the Pitch category at this year’s ceremony on Nov. 17. The award will recognize the achievements of an individual, club or other football organization for their impact on society at large. and culture as well as charity work.

Rooney himself is nominated for an award celebrating his playing career – and his two decades of roller coaster riding at the top of the sport was undoubtedly something special.

“The standout moment… is with my team when you win a trophy and you lift it and the celebrations you initially have after that game. That’s why you work so hard… That’s why you play,” Rooney recalled.

“Actually the best was the first Premier League trophy we won,” he reveals, referring to Manchester United’s title success in the 2006/2007 season.

“I was actually sitting at home…and if Chelsea didn’t win, we won the league. I had my ironed clothes ready to go out, but I didn’t want to wear anything bad luck. Anyway, Chelsea didn’t win so I just remember the phone went off and we had a great night.

The mercurial talent made his Premier League debut for his hometown club Everton in 2002 aged 16. His first goal – a stunning strike that went past Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman – has gone down in Premier League folklore.

Recognized as the outstanding talent of his generation, Rooney became the first man to score 50 goals for the England national team, also surpassing Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record as Manchester United’s top scorer. Along the way, he won five league titles and appeared in three Champions League finals.

You might think that after such a grueling career, a well-deserved break was on the cards for Rooney. But at 37, he turned to coaching instead.

He moved to Washington in July to manage DC United, a team he spent time playing with. It won’t be an easy task considering the franchise finished bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference, but Rooney doesn’t seem to mind.

DC United head coach Wayne Rooney before an MLS game in August.

“I love him. Trying to develop players, young players, but also having that relationship with the more experienced players and trying to develop them.

“What’s attractive about obviously going back to DC and becoming a head coach for me is if you look at all the big teams and the culture, it’s so diverse with different nationalities, different religions.”

While Rooney is happy in the United States at the moment, it’s clear that his long-term ambitions lie closer to home.

“Obviously Everton and Manchester United are the two clubs that are really close to my heart so to lead one of them would be a dream,” he admits, the latter currently coached by his former England team-mate, Frank Lampard.

“I’m still gaining a lot of experience from what I’m doing. You want to learn, and I want to go to Everton or Manchester United, I want to go there and be able to give the best version of me.

“I would be naïve to say, ‘I’m going to be managing Manchester United for about next year. For me it’s about putting in the work and growing and if I do it and do it the right way then I feel like those jobs, those opportunities will eventually come my way.

Rooney’s tenure at DC United comes after a tumultuous reign at English side Derby County.

The club went into administration after debts soared and it failed to pay players their salaries. Deducted points for financial mismanagement, Derby was eventually relegated, but Rooney was praised for his efforts to keep them in the Championship, the second tier of English football.

Wayne Rooney instructs his team during a Derby County match.

“I’m proud of what we achieved there…we got relegated but without the deductions we would have stayed in the division.

“There were so many difficulties in what we faced and obstacles to overcome,” laments Rooney.

“I give them [sic] so much praise because I think it was 21 academy debuts… There are players who maybe didn’t even have a career in football who now have [one].”

If he’s looking for advice, Rooney has no shortage of mentors to draw from.

David Moyes, now West Ham manager, debuted him aged 16 in 2002, La Liga winner Fabio Capello coached him for a stint in England and Rooney ended his career at United under the management of two-time Champions League champion José Mourinho. .

But he says his biggest influence was Manchester club’s most successful manager, Alex Ferguson, who signed him for the club for a then-record sum for a teenager of nearly $50 million.

“He was great to play for him, that’s why I signed for Manchester United to play for him. The best advice I got…was from Alex Ferguson, [and it] has been [that] the hardest thing to do in life is to work hard every day. And it’s the best. It’s still stuck with me.

Then Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson congratulates Wayne Rooney after his last Premier League victory in 2013.

“From a football point of view, from a training point of view, of course you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to make mistakes, but there’s no excuse for not really working.”

Manchester United have seen little success since Ferguson retired in 2013. The 20-time English league winner has seen derby rivals Manchester City edge them on and off the pitch since the club was taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008.

Erik ten Hag took over the coaching reins in the summer and the Dutchman picked up some impressive wins which lifted the mood around Old Trafford. While Rooney was in Dubai, goals from Fred and Bruno Fernandes gave the Manchester club a dominating win over Tottenham Hotspur.

“It’s the best I’ve seen at Manchester United in a long time,” Rooney said. “I think you can see what he’s trying to do. High energy, high press with the team and it was very difficult for Tottenham to play against.”

The only black mark of this performance was star player Cristiano Ronaldo walking through the tunnel with several minutes left because he hadn’t stepped onto the pitch. Ten Haag then suspended the player, but Ronaldo’s obvious desire to play is a positive sign for a manager, according to Rooney.

“Football is emotional and you want players who want to be on the pitch. I don’t mind a player going out and not being happy. I did that myself,” says Rooney, who played with Ronaldo during his most successful time at United.

If Rooney has any regrets about his playing career, it’s his performance for England in international tournaments.

At the age of 18, Rooney became the youngest goalscorer in European Championship history – a record that only lasted four days after the Englishman’s landmark was taken by Swiss Johan Vonlanthen at Euro 2004.

Rooney celebrates scoring a goal at Wembley in 2015, breaking the record for most international goals for England.

When he set the record, Rooney scored twice in England’s second group game, a 3-0 loss to Switzerland. He then broke a bone in his foot in the quarter-final loss to Portugal when England lost on penalties.

Two years later, Rooney was notoriously sent off against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup for lashing out at then club-mate Ronaldo.

Despite playing in a side made up of England icons such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, known as the ‘Golden Generation’, Rooney never won a trophy with the national side.

“We were unlucky a few times,” laments Rooney. “Obviously at the Euros, 2004, World Cup 2006, getting knocked out on penalties, both in the quarter-finals. And, again, it’s that bit of luck you need, if you go through there you can potentially win the competition.

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