Imagine my surprise when the article I was writing about the merits of Wayne Rooney’s imminent England recall were torpedoed by the announcement Rooney was retiring from international football.
It’s the right decision for Rooney, for Everton and probably England too. Rooney has got himself in condition, found form and is rekindling his old flame with Everton, good luck to him.
The challenge of a 38 game league campaign plus cups plus Europa League is a sizeable undertaking for a 31 year old without the additional demand of internationals. If he ends Everton’s 22 year trophy drought it will provide a final flourish to a glorious career.
Yet somehow Rooney has never quite become the loved figure his record seems to merit. As has been poured over this summer following his departure from Old Trafford, he left Manchester United with the clubs goalscoring record, a truckload of medals and accolades but never seemed to quite have the love of the Old Trafford faithful afforded Charlton, Best, Law & Ronaldo.
His England career will inevitably be summed up with this sort of sentence- He’s England’s record goalscorer and he never delivered in a major tournament. It’s the Rooney paradox.
Rooney arrived with England to tremendous hype- the final piece of the golden generation jigsaw, the superstar to bring glory to England’s hugely talented side. Rooney’s first tournament with England was by far the best- setting Euro 2004 alight with three stunning displays and 4 goals from the group phase. But then came the first metatarsal injury in the quarter finals and his tournament came to an abrupt end.
In 2006 he suffered another metatarsal break at the tail end of Manchester United’s season and the nation went into a month long ‘will he won’t he go debate’. What’s alarming looking back at the 2006 media furore is I can’t remember a single journalist or pundit giving serious consideration to what England would do without him. But it seemed the nation didn’t need to worry, Rooney was training and declared ‘injury free’ by Sven so it was panic over.
Of course the term ‘injury free’ was carefully selected and really meant he wasn’t match fit or even fully recovered. He was kept out of England’s opening game but brought off the bench in the next and it became evident quickly he was at best 50% fit, his frustration grew and ended in a red card in the quarter finals.
The biggest scar on Rooney’s England career (and many others) came in South Africa in 2010. Rooney arrived at the tournament England’s great hope, but left with 4 appearances no goals and no assists. Again a pre tournament injury meant he wasn’t 100% fit but that didn’t explain why he suddenly couldn’t trap a ball, his post match rant about supporters after an insipid 0-0 draw with Algeria didn’t help his standing.
Fabio Capello kept faith with Rooney for Euro 2012 qualifying and Rooney rewarded him with goals, but in England’s final qualifier for Euro 2012 Rooney picked up his second England red cad- with a 2 match suspension slapped on as punishment. England started the tournament well picking up 4 points from 2 Rooneyless games, new manager Roy Hodgson brought Rooney back straight away but again a lack of match sharpness told. Alex Ferguson always maintained Rooney needed games to reach his maximum level and was not a player who could make an immediate impact, it’s hard to argue with his assessment.
And so to Brazil 2014, Rooney’s last chance to make a major impact at the World Cup, sadly the England squad of 2014 was a pale imitation of 2006 with few major stars. A tough draw did for Hodgson’s limited side but notably England’s only goals came from a Rooney cross against Italy and his neat finish against Uruguay, had he been in a better side maybe that would’ve been his tournament.
In 2015 Rooney became England’s record goalscorer by despatching a penalty against Switzerland in Euro qualifying. By the time England arrived at Euro 2016 a new generation of strikers were available to England: Kane, Rashford & Vardy. Hodgson shuffled Rooney into midfield with initial success but when England crashed into the Icelandic iceberg Rooney was heavily criticised.
In 2016/17 Rooney’s form faded and new England manager Gareth Southgate wisely dropped him, Rooney to his credit took it professionally and got on with it. Ironically Southgate wanted to recall Rooney this week when Wayne decided it was time to go.
It’ll be interesting to hear Southgate’s thoughts on Rooney at tomorrow’s squad announcement, was the proposed recall with the World Cup in mind or a reward for his club form this season? Southgate had always maintained he would recall Rooney if his form merited inclusion.
Part of the conundrum with England was his various England managers (he played for 6) had different ideas about where to play him; Sven saw him as a deep lying forward, Capello an out and out number 9, whilst Hodgson eventually put him in central midfield having previously played him as a striker, wide attacker and number 10.
Another issue was Rooney’s lack of tactical discipline, he always seemed to follow the ball rather than hold his position, the worst example coming in 2014 against Italy where he wad deployed on the left of a 4-2-3-1 but failed to provide Leighton Baines with cover and Italy cashed in.
All that being said Rooney was a fine player for England lighting up Euro 2004, many a night at Wembley and dragging England’s chestnuts out of 1numerous qualification fires. While he was never quite the Leo Messi he was once hailed but he was a great international player.
I’ve said before he reminds me of former Spain & Real Madrid striker Raul- a creative forward with an eye for goal who left the Bernabeu with a bookful of records and a suitcase crammed with medals. For Spain he enjoyed a hugely credible career playing 100+ times and setting a new goal scoring record but was never quite the national saviour he was hailed and never got beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament- sound familiar?
Interestingly Rooney’s resignation statement ended with this reference “One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity” referring to the possibility of England winning something. Is he hinting at a coaching career? Maybe not but it’s important Rooney passes on his knowledge of international football to England’s next generation and remains visible at St George’s Park perhaps helping the juniors or even just giving talks about his England career.
Rooney was a great servant to England and Gary Lineker was probably right in saying we have under appreciated him. But it’s the right time for England and it’s most famous player to move on.