Rooney- Lessons from Raul

It looks almost certain Wayne Rooney will be an Everton player next season. Rooney’ s decision to take a pay cut to return to his boyhood club rather than earn a fortune in China is admirable, it also keeps the dying embers of his England career alive.

Rooney has already stated he intends to play on with England to the next World Cup, the big question is should England keep him around, for me the answer is a resounding no.

Rooney has been a great servent to England but baring a miraculous return to form I fail to see a recall working out well.

Rooney has always been a polarising figure, on the one hand England’s record goal scorer on the other a big time player who’s never delivered in a major tournament.

In many ways Rooney reminds me of former Real Madrid & Spain forward Raul. Raul was the founding member of Real’s Galacticos combining a prolific goal scoring record with a rare creativity spark. He spent 16 years with Real setting a new goal scoring record of 220 strikes in an era when the lesser lights of La Liga provided more competition than the cannon fodder for Ronaldo, Messi et all we see today.

After making his full Spain debut aged 19 Raul was hailed as Spain’s great hope and at 21 was expected to light up France ’98- as it turned out he scored in Spain’s opening game but they lost and were scuttled out in the group phase.

The hype continued into Euro 2000 where Raul scored 1 goal in the group but then missed a last minute penalty in the quarter finals as Spain went down to eventual champions France. Raul then lead Spain to a group stage exit at Euro 2004 and by the time of the 2006 World Cup he was playing a peripheral role in a squad featuring then dynamic youngsters David Villa & Fernando Torres hinting at a more promising future.

Raul eventually played 102 times for Spain, setting a new goal scoring record of 44 strikes along the way.  He was Spain’s best player in a comparatively average era of Spanish football, a great player of his day but ultimately not quite in the class of Zidane, Figo & Henry. It’s hard not to see the parallels with Rooney.

But the key lesson to note for England came at the very end of Raul’s Spain career. His last game for Spain was in September 2006 a 3-2 loss to Northern Ireland in Euro 2008 qualifying- seen at the time as a new low for Spanish Football.

In the aftermath Raul was dropped although he didn’t retire from international football and in the run up to Euro 2008 many in the Spanish press campaigned for his recall. Despite the pressure Manger Luis Aragones decided to stick with the trusted pairing of Villa & Torres and Raul was ommited, Spain played on into history and nobody demanded a Raul recall for the 2010 World Cup.

I’m not suggesting the current England is on par with the Spain of 2008 but resisting the temptation to recall Raul and sticking to an established plan was clearly a factor in Spain’s triumph- even though the logic for picking Raul was sound- here was a team ready to win a tournament and packed with talent so why not add one more gifted man player to the mix?

In hindsight it’s clear why Aragones didn’t bring Raul back- bringing him into the team would mean dropping one of Torres or Villa: losing some of the teams forward thrust or reshaping the midfield to accommodate Raul in a deeper role with Xavi & Iniesta likely moved into wider midfield roles.  In a squad that offered goals from Torres, Villa there was no need for a slower creative forward especially when the creativity could be provided by any combination of Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva & Cesc Fabregas there was simply no place for Raul.

For Gareth Southgate his England team is still at the embryonic phase- the one element of the team that looks established is the attack.

Currently England have one of the worlds top Number 9s in Harry Kane, behind him one of Europes most promising number 10s in Dele Alli- two players forging their partnership together at club level. Out wide England have the creativity of Adam Lallana and the pace of Raheem Sterling. Further down the pecking order are 2 pacey forwards in the dynamic Marcus Rashford and more direct Jamie Vardy, on the wing there’s the power of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and in Jesse Lingard a ‘do a job’ player with a tendency to score in big games.

The only role possibly open to Rooney is a very junior one where England have the more in form Jermain Defoe and plenty of young emerging talents looking to kick on (Dominic Solanke, Tammy Abraham & Demarai Gray to name a few). And as we’ve seen many times Rooney isn’t suited to the super sub role where adapting quickly to the pace of a match is key- something Vardy in particular is very good at.

Age isn’t a barrier to entry in an international team- Miroslav Klose proved vital in Germany’s 2014 World Cup squad aged 36. But Klose had a specific role in a team short of centre forwards and Klose was a key part of Joachim Loew’s plan from day 1. From day 1 of Southgate’s reign Rooney has been a minor player in the squad or out of it all together.

As Raul’s career with Spain proved it’s usually better to move on rather than going back to the well once too often.

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