Wayne Rooney has admitted he often turned to alcohol during his first few years at Manchester United to cope with the pressure that weighed on him as a young, high-profile footballer.

The 36-year-old, who’s now manager of troubled Championship club Derby County, discussed the demons he dealt with during his career in an interview with The Daily Mail’s Oliver Holt. He attributes his “anger and pain” to a childhood of “fights and arguments” in his council estate in Liverpool and the scrutiny that accompanied his swift ascent to the top of the game.

“There were times you’d get a couple of days off from football, and I would actually lock myself away and just drink to try to take all that away from my mind,” he said about how he dealt with stress before the arrival of his first son, Kai.

“It was just a buildup of everything,” Rooney explained. “Pressure of playing for your country, playing for Manchester United, the pressure of some of the stuff which came out in the newspapers about my personal life, just trying to deal with all that pressure, which builds up.

“I was trying to figure out how to deal with it by myself. Growing up on a council estate, you would never actually go and speak to anyone. You would always find a way to deal with it yourself. It was trying to cope with it yourself rather than asking for help.”

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

The retired forward made his Premier League debut with Everton at 16 and was a full international at just 17. He became the all-time top scorer for both Manchester United and England, but he was criticized for apparently not reaching the potential he displayed while rising through the Toffees’ ranks and establishing himself at United.

In his youth, it appeared Rooney, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo would dominate football for over a decade. Rooney never won a Ballon d’Or, while the other two have 12 between them.

Rooney insisted he’s never considered himself an alcoholic and that he never arrived at training drunk, but the way he dealt with the pressure certainly affected his match preparation at United.

“I’d get a couple of days off, and I wouldn’t want to be near anyone. I would sit in the house and for two days, I would just drink,” he said. “Then, on the third day, when I was back in training, I would have to dust myself down and put eye drops in and get through that week’s training. I was in a really bad place.

“Then I had to get through training, through games. It was constant for about three or four years in that initial period of being at United.”

Rooney is now relishing the fight at Derby, a club trying to stay afloat in the second tier with a 21-point deduction due to financial issues and boardroom mismanagement. He underlined his commitment to the cause when he recently rejected an opportunity to interview for the Everton manager’s job. The vacancy in Rooney’s native Merseyside was eventually filled by his former England teammate Frank Lampard.

Meanwhile, the ex-attacker describes his current relationship with drinking as “fine.”

“No problems,” he said. “I still have a drink now and again. Not like I used to. Not like when I was playing. It’s well in control.”


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