Remembering Rooney: England’s 13-Year Servant

Remembering Rooney: England’s 13-Year Servant
Aug 25, 2017

England Featured

Here’s a question. How many of Wayne Rooney’s record breaking 53 goals for England can you actually remember? Since his joyous performance at Euro 2004, he has only scored twice in major tournaments, once against Ukraine at Euro 2012, and a tap-in against Uruguay at the World Cup 2014. As Jonathan Wilson wrote in a piece for Sports Illustrated this week, Rooney has been “living forever in the shadow” of the ebullient 19-year-old in Portugal in 2004.

To watch Rooney in that tournament was to watch a player free from the angst and dread that seems to afflict every England player when he puts on the shirt. Had he not gone off injured in the quarter final against Portugal he could well have led England to their first trophy since ’66. 2004 was probably the best tournament for an individual player since Gazza in 1990. But it’s not remembered that way because it was supposed to be merely the opening act of something much greater.

By 2006, he too was shackled with the chronic terror of the modern England footballer in a major. He recovered from a metatarsal injury to take part in an exasperating goalless tournament in Germany and experienced despair again against Portugal in the quarter finals, this time with a red card for a stamp on Carvalho. Cristiano’s wink pointed to a problematic side of Rooney that could prevent him from fulfilling his potential. Two years ago his finishing against Croatia and Switzerland showed remarkable maturity, but in Germany, he displayed a kind of arrested development. He seemed a player almost trying too hard, grasping furiously to fulfil his destiny.

He hadn’t learnt his lesson 6 years later when an equally petulant kick-out at an opponent against Montenegro caused him to miss the two opening group games of Euro 2012. Rooney too often, and too easily, made himself the centre-piece of England’s failure. His admonishing of England fans to the cameras after 0-0 with Algeria in 2010 was another unpleasant moment.

So how do we judge a player who fell short of expectations, and had a leading role in some many of England’s recent shortfalls at major tournaments?

Arguably Rooney’s best spell for England was in the World Cup Qualifying for 2010, where he scored 9 goals in 10 games, as a disciplined England breezed through to the finals in South Africa. In qualifying for 2014 World Cup Rooney was the group’s top scorer with 7 goals, a feat he repeated in Euro 16 qualifying. Rooney averages a goal exactly every other game in competitive matches, which is basically the same record as Gary Lineker and Michael Owen. If you take into account that Rooney’s naturally unselfish approach to the game, then it becomes clear how easy it is to underestimate Rooney’s impact at England.

And perhaps this where Rooney’s legacy lies. David Beckham said of Rooney “He would run through a brick wall for you, for himself, for the team, for the fans.” Rooney has always looked like a player who would play the game for free (don’t need to talk about the Man City ordeal right now). Every one of the 119 times Rooney pulled on the England shirt he gave everything. He was heavily criticised for his conduct after the Algeria game in 2010, but all it was really just an outburst of passion.

He had scored 9 goals in qualifying and 26 goals in 32 Premier League games, this was supposed to be his a career-defining tournament. England players are so often criticized for looking like they don’t care, but here was player visible clearly pained by England’s performance. He was prone to outbursts and bouts of stupidity, but no-one can accuse Rooney for not caring.

Sadly, Rooney will never get to have that defining tournament. Perhaps if England had carried on their qualification form into the World Cup in South Africa and made a run to the semi’s or the final we’d have a much different opinion of Rooney’s career. The truth is, in international football, it just takes one summer to make you a legend. Rooney performed at a high level for 13 years. For Rooney to have achieved so much at 31-years-old is remarkable. When Shearer and Scholes both retired at 30 it was met with shock, a sacrifice. With Rooney, however, there is a feeling he is going at the right time.

His decision to retire will help maximize this new stage of his career at Everton. In Russia next Summer he won’t be hanging around the England dugout like a relic of past failures, much like Kevin Keegan at in Spain ’82. That’s a good thing. This is a new era in for the England football team.

But the previous era, more than any of the “Golden Generation”, belongs to Wayne Rooney. Yes, there were some bitter disappointments in the past 13 years, but no-one tried harder for his country to prevent them than him.

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