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‘A huge loss to football’: Wayne Rooney pays tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton

Wayne Rooney has paid tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton, expressing gratitude for his guidance and revealing the Manchester United great delivered a stirring speech to the squad before their Champions League win in 2008.

Charlton spoke with the United squad before they defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow, having also entered the United dressing room at Stoke to congratulate Rooney on breaking his goalscoring record in 2017 – two years after Rooney eclipsed his England goalscoring record.

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Charlton touched on the shattering experience of the Munich air disaster in February 1958, which killed 23 people including eight players and three members of club staff. “I always remember before [the] 2008 Champions League [final] he spoke to the whole team about what happened in ’58, which was very moving and emotional, as you can imagine,” Rooney said.

“It was the 50th anniversary of what happened. He obviously lost a lot of friends in the accident and talking about it must have been pretty hard. I think when you have moments with people who have so much experience and gained so much throughout the game, sometimes you can take it for granted when you speak to them and it is only when you lose them you look back and think about what they have done for you.”

Rooney said he and Charlton, who died on Saturday aged 86, shared several special times and private conversations, and that Charlton was “first class” and “will never be forgotten”. He learned of Charlton’s passing before the second half of Birmingham’s defeat at Middlesbrough last Saturday.

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“It was a big shock to me coming out for the second half, walking out and seeing his face on the [big] screen. I was wondering what had happened and then it hit me. But I think we have to celebrate his life, what he has achieved as a person.

“When you lose someone it is extremely hard but I think it is important that you celebrate what they have given to this world, and especially when you’ve met them. I am still waiting to see when the funeral is and I’m hoping I can be there or at some service they put on so I can pay my respects. It is a huge loss to football.”

Sir Bobby Charlton with Wayne Rooney in 2015Rooney is grateful for the special moments he shared with Charlton. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

On Wednesday Rooney will take charge of his first home game in charge of Birmingham, against Hull. Rooney replaced John Eustace, who was sacked despite leading a club that finished 17th in the Championship last season to sixth in the table. Both teams will wear black armbands in honour of Charlton and there will be a minute’s applause before kick‑off.

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Rooney, who turned 38 on Tuesday, acknowledged his status and name counts for little with Birmingham fans and that he must win them over. “Because of who I was as a player doesn’t mean I can step into this football club and demand the respect of the fans,” Rooney said. “I made a massive decision as an 18-year-old to go to Manchester United from Everton and at the time, as a young Scouser going into Manchester, I had to win Man United fans over. It is the same here and I completely understand it.

“That is [something I have had to do] everywhere I have been in my career – you have to win over the fans. Ultimately I’ll be judged on results.”