England striker Wayne Rooney takes his place among the FWA Footballers of the Year.
The 24-year-old Manchester United forward topped the poll of journalists with just over 81% of a record number of votes cast, finishing ahead of Chelsea forward Didier Drogba and Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez to win the prestigious accolade, which has been running since 1948.
Both United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and England manager Fabio Capello were present to watch Rooney, who led Manchester United’s ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Chelsea for the Barclays Premier League title, receive his award at the FWA’s gala dinner at the Lancaster London Hotel.
On collecting his award, Rooney said: “When you look around the room and see all the previous winners, for me to be among them is a great feeling.
“I am so proud, because I play football every day, it is my job and to win this award is amazing.”
Rooney, though, has no intentions of resting on his laurels.
“I am only 24. Hopefully I can progress and the best years are still ahead of me,” he said.
“I am always learning every day, and take things in from all my team-mates, both at United and with England.
“As a player you are never the finished article. I want to keep learning and getting better.”
The striker admitted he could not see a future outside the game and revealed he intended to stay involved in the game for many years to come.
“I love football and enjoy football – I can’t see myself running a restaurant, I want to be in football.”
Sir Alex Ferguson paid his own tribute to Rooney. The Scot said: “Wayne has this unbelievable energy, which transmits itself through everyone. It is electricity – you are born with that.
“It is nothing anyone has given him, he has just got that great desire and is quite rightly on a pantheon with all these great players who are pictured on the wall around this room. He easily sits up there with them.”
Rooney scored 34 goals in all competitions and is integral to England’s World Cup hopes in South Africa.
The striker has been struggling with ankle and groin problems since United’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich on March 30.
But now Rooney is focused on recovering full fitness and is relishing leading England’s World Cup campaign in South Africa as Capello’s squad aim to emulate the 1966 success.
England line-up in Group C in South Africa alongside Algeria and Slovenia and begin their campaign against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.
Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling presented a question and answer session with Rooney, another first for the FWA event.
The United striker revealed he feels there is unfinished business ahead.
“The last two tournaments I have played in both ended in disappointment for me. I broke my foot at Euro 2004 and then got sent off at the World Cup in Germany,” he said.
“In the last World Cup I did not really show enough of my quality and enough excitement, which I wanted to.
“I am looking forward to this one and want to try to take my club form in with England, to help us win the World Cup.”
Capello is in no doubt Rooney has the world at his feet.
“In addition to his great technical ability, Wayne is also a player who never gives up and has a great desire to win every game,” the England manager wrote in a personal tribute to Rooney for the FWA.
“I like working with him, because he wants to learn all the time and works to improve in training.
“He is also very popular with his team-mates because of his attitude on and off the pitch.”
Capello continued: “Wayne is a very special footballer and he is now one of the top players in the world.
“He is still a young player and he can go on to achieve a lot more in the game, for many years.
“Hopefully it will be good for England that Wayne has been in such great form this season, as he will be a very important player for us in South Africa.”
The 2010 Footballer of the Year Dinner was again sold out, and the FWA, along with sponsors Barclays, was proud to help back the England 2018 World Cup bid during the evening, with guests having received a letter from David Beckham on their arrival at the tables.
FWA Chairman Steve Bates, chief football writer for The People, reflected: “I am certain that in the 64-year history of our prestigious Footballer of the Year Award there cannot have been a more popular winner than Wayne Rooney.
“There have been many big moments in Wayne’s wonderful career already, and I am sure this won’t be the last time he will be centre stage at this event.
“Wayne joins a unique club – one started by Sir Stanley Matthews in 1948 and through the following six decades has included many of the greats of the English game.
“Our members, who voted in such overwhelming numbers for him this year, have recognised that Wayne has taken his game to a new level.
“As the 2010 World Cup in South Africa approaches, every Englishman across the globe will hope those goals keep flowing just as they have done for Manchester United this season.”