Rewind to July 1, 2006 and another England journey on the biggest stage of all ended in absolute heartbreak. This time the bogeyman was Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s talented squad – consisting of the Golden Generation of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Co – came up short in the quest for football’s greatest prize once more, Portugal dumping out England on penalties at the World Cup quarter-final stage.
But while heartache and the same old stories lingered about England’s failure to deliver when it mattered the most, an infamous incident between two of the world’s best players stole most of the headlines.
Football fans witnessed one of the most iconic moments in recent history when Rooney became only the third England player to be sent off at a World Cup – joining Ray Wilkins (1986) and David Beckham (1998).
A half-fit Rooney, the team’s totemic forward, had endured an extremely frustrating game in Gelsenkirchen and his patience finally snapped on the hour mark when he got tangled up with Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho before stamping on the former Chelsea defender – in the most sensitive of areas – while he was on the floor.
But what followed overshadowed the moment of madness from Rooney and would dominate the rhetoric following England’s painful exit.
Wayne Rooney’s red card against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup shocked the football world
The England striker stamped on Ricardo Carvalho before receiving his marching orders
Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (left) led the protests
Furious Rooney shoved Ronaldo as his opponent – and club-mate – pleaded with the referee
Ronaldo’s famous wink afterwards led to immense backlash from English fans and media alike
Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was right on the spot as he stamped on Carvalho, led Portugal’s protests – right in referee Horacio Marcelo Elizondo’s face. Rooney shoved his club colleague back in frustration.
Just moments later, Elizondo gave Rooney his marching orders. But the matter wasn’t done yet.
When Rooney walked back down the tunnel in humiliation and despair, the television cameras zoomed in on Ronaldo cheekily winking towards Portugal’s bench – ‘job done’.
The fires of frustration and injustice – England were the better team on the day and their gilded squad were capable of so much more – were stoked by Ronaldo’s arrogant admission of guilt.
He had convinced the referee that Rooney had to go, robbing England of their star player. Not only that, but he had betrayed his club team-mate.
In truth, Rooney deserved his red card, suckered into a foolish and reckless act by the canny and always niggling Carvalho and a Portuguese team particularly adept at football’s dark arts, but it did not stop a huge backlash from English fans and the media.
Rooney shouted at Ronaldo after the Portuguese star attempted to get him sent off
The England star argued with Ronaldo as Portugal’s protests continued in Gelsenkirchen
Ronaldo looked back at Rooney as his United team-mate walked off the pitch after his red card
Ian Wright, working as a BBC pundit that day, was shocked by Ronaldo’s actions: ‘Look at that… has he just winked there?’.
Meanwhile, fellow pundit Alan Shearer, summed up what the majority of English fans were thinking that day: ‘I think there is every chance that Wayne Rooney could go back to the United training ground and stick one on Ronaldo.’
To make matters worse, who should step up to score Portugal’s winning penalty in the shootout? Yep, you guessed it.
The papers had their fun, not-so-subtly branding Ronaldo a ‘winker’.
No one could quite believe it – United’s two biggest players embroiled in one of the most controversial moments in recent World Cup history. How could the damage be repaired and what would this mean for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League giants?
The following months were dominated by questions of how Rooney and Ronaldo could ever get past this – how on earth was the Englishman going to forgive his United team-mate for conniving against him on football’s greatest stage, and how were they even going to be able to sharing a dressing room together? Could United’s season be in tatters before it had even begun?
England’s much-hailed Golden Generation went on to lose out in a penalty shootout
John Terry was among those in tears after England’s World Cup dream died yet again
Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon comfort Rio Ferdinand (centre), who was also devastated
Captain David Beckham was also in tears having come off injured during the match
England’s WAGS had been a distraction throughout the tournament. Here Vanessa Perroncel (bottom left), Carly Cole (bottom second left), Cheryl Tweedy (top centre) and Victoria Beckham (top right) show their sorrow and shock at the team’s defeat in Germany
Ronaldo, of all people, had gone on to seal England’s doom, scoring the winning penalty
Ronaldo has since admitted that he was scared to return to England.
Speaking to Goalhanger, he said: ‘The media created a big drama which never existed. So when I arrived back in England I was kind of afraid, not because of Rooney but because of England supporters.
‘They made a huge story when I did the wink, but it was not because of the circumstances with Rooney, it was another situation.
‘It was difficult timing for me because I thought when I arrived in Manchester, people were going to boo me in all the stadiums.
‘But it’s the past, 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”.’
While many thought Ronaldo was in for a rude awakening at United, Gary Neville – who was also playing that day for England – later admitted that everyone had in fact rallied around the Portuguese forward.
When asked if all the England players were waiting for Ronaldo at United training after the infamous wink, Neville told Sky Sports: ‘No, 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 actually were really good friends, they socialised together those two. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano and Wayne were very close to each other and actually it felt like – because the whole of the country was against him – it felt like a bit of a David Beckham-type moment in our dressing room.
‘Whereby there was this thing about England and Manchester United anyway with England fans having a go at United players while they were playing for England, so there was no love lost there anyway.
‘I think when David Beckham came back from the World Cup in 1998 everyone rallied round him at United and it was the same with Cristiano in 2006, everyone seemed to sort of come together and it seemed to help him in some ways go and prove everybody wrong.
‘I think he does like proving people wrong and it was from the very first day of pre-season. It was the first morning of pre-season we were called into his office and I was there and they shook hands so there was no problem whatsoever.
‘And Wayne to be fair, Wayne is knowledgeable enough to know that ultimately on a football pitch anything goes, we had that mentally ourselves at the football club at United. You try to do everything you can to win a game.
‘If Cristiano was trying to win for his country then Wayne wouldn’t expect anything different and neither would I.’
Rooney and Ronaldo would then go on to emphatically answer any doubts that fans or the media had about their relationship going forward.
The pair had clearly buried the hatchet upon returning to club football, both scoring 23 goals the following season as United won the Premier League for the first time in four years and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.
It was some response from the United duo following their bust-up at the World Cup, with their relationship seeming from the outside beyond repair for a while. But they put their troubles firmly in the past to inspire themselves and their club to greatness.
Earlier this year, Rooney – who went on to become United’s all-time top goalscorer – admitted that the notorious incident in Germany 14 years ago in fact brought the pair closer together.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Rooney said: ‘The game was going OK. Then, early in the second half, came my red card.
‘It was a reaction to the referee – Horacio Elizondo – not giving me a free kick. There was a clear foul, the former Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho was pulling and pushing me and Petit came in from the other side.
‘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 and back in the dressing room I watched the rest of the game on a little TV, thinking: “If we win this, I’m suspended for a World Cup semi-final and final and if we lose it’s all my fault.” It was the worst, weirdest feeling I’ve had in football.
Sir Alex Ferguson (right) pulled Rooney and Ronaldo aside on their return to United following the World Cup to make sure they patched up their differences but he needn’t have worried
The pair were good friends and went on to lead United to Premier League glory in 2006-07
Ronaldo and Rooney scored 23 goals each that season as United won the title
‘I had my phone in my hand and I was getting all these messages about Ronaldo. Of course, when he ran over to Elizondo to send me off I pushed him away. In that moment I couldn’t believe what he was doing. But sitting in that dressing room gave me time to calm down and think.
‘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.
‘I thought: “Actually, I tried to get him booked in the first half for diving.” And the wink thing, I didn’t see anything in that at all, it was nothing.
‘So I calmed down. I went over to him afterwards in the tunnel. I felt it was important to speak to him while it was still fresh and to do it face to face.
‘He gave me a look as if to say sorry, but by then I had my United head on. I said: “I’ve no issues with you. Enjoy your tournament and good luck. I’ll see you in a few weeks — and let’s go try and win the league.”‘
The rest was history, and what followed was utter domination for United – with Rooney and Ronaldo leading the club’s glorious charge.
After winning the Premier League in 2006-07, United clinched another two Premier League titles in a row while lifting the Champions League in 2007-08.
Just imagine what would have happened if Rooney and Ronaldo hadn’t made up. The circus that would have followed may have been too much for Ferguson and his United team.
Would the Red Devils have gone on to win the Premier League, starting another incredible run of domestic dominance?
No one will ever know, but luckily for United Rooney and Ronaldo put any differences aside for the greater good – although England fans to this day might not see it that way.