The bulldozing 24-year-old came to South Africa riding a wave of accolades after scoring 34 goals in all competitions last season, having quickly mastered a new role in Manchester United's team.
When he talked of ambitions to outperform Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi of Argentina, Fernando Torres of Spain and Brazil's Kaká at the World Cup, few would have bet against him.
Despite a phenomenal season, British media made much of Rooney's lack of goals at international level heading into the tournament, while also hailing him as England's great hope.
The pressure was perhaps too much. England, often toothless in attack without a top-form Rooney, kicked off their World Cup with a 1-1 draw with the United States - forever to be remembered for goalkeeper Robert Green's goal-gifting gaffe. Next followed a dire 0-0 draw with Algeria and then an only marginally improved 1-0 victory over Slovenia to ensure qualification for the last 16 and a tie with rivals Germany.
In all three matches, Rooney was the man on England fans' and commentators' lips. A marauding, energetic and passionate frontman, the United player seemed bereft of his usual traits and his touch was noticeably sporadic in quality.
Everybody expected the "real Rooney" to appear against Germany at the Free State Stadium on Sunday, only to witness another frustrated figure cut in the sunshine as England were crushed 4-1 and sent packing back to London.
Rooney's passion is there for all to see, though sometimes it spills out in the wrong manner. He had to apologise for criticising England fans who booed his team off after their turgid display against Algeria.
As England's top marksman, he now has the unenviable record of no goals in nine internationals.
Some critics blame England coach Fabio Capello's tactics for the chalk-and-cheese performances at international and domestic level, suggesting the players do not like their roles, which leads to Rooney's impact in matches being nullified.
"When the players play well, they play all the systems. We always play this system in qualification and no one asks this question," Capello told reporters after the Germany defeat.