In an article published before Rooney became England's all-time top scorer, Aaron Cox ponders whey people struggle to love the Three Lions Skipper
Wayne Rooney is a name synonymous with English football. Go anywhere in the world and utter his name and people will offer you a flutter of recognition or bellow his surname back at you in a jovial manner. Wazza is a world star and he is on the verge of becoming England’s greatest ever goalscorer, yet there is something that brings many to dismiss Rooney from lists of England’s greatest ever players, be that his off the pitch conduct, his, at times, dismissive demeanour or the opinion that he just simply isn’t that good.
A very English love affair
The issues for the former Everton youngster started at such a very young age. He scored THAT goal past David Seaman and suddenly the world became his oyster. Clive Tyldesley implored us to ‘remember the name’, and ever since it has been pretty hard to forget it. Rooney has been the face of English football, the great hope for over a decade.
No sooner had that ball touched the back of the net than had he been declared the next Gazza, was being used to sell cars and was generally having his young shoulders crushed by the pressure of the British media. In no other country do players receive such idolisation and such a burden at such a young age. That pressure has never relinquished on the now England captain. Granted, much of that is of his own doing, but having to deal with it for so long cannot have been easy.
There is a habit of building a sportsman up, just to take joy in knocking them down when they don’t deliver a world class performance. There is no greater symbol of that nature than the case of Rooney. If he fails to score for club or country he is derided as ‘overweight’ or ‘not good enough’ . It’s a pretty faint line for the general public, if he scores he’s a genius, if he fails he’s useless.
Was he ever actually as good as we all thought?
The question must be asked of whether he was actually as good as we all thought in the first place? The answer, quite simply, is yes. That 16-year-old boy had all the talent in the world and he showed it during his time at Everton and even more so in his years at Manchester United. His England career started fantastically well, with Euro 2004 arguably the highlight of his international career.
When Manchester United signed him from Everton, Sir Alex Ferguson did not believe he was signing a goalscorer, more a wonderfully gifted footballer. Yet the youngster went about scoring a hat-trick on his debut and setting his sights on becoming the club’s greatest goalscorer of all-time, a feat he will achieve in the not too distant future. The talent has always been there, of that there can be no doubt.
Peaking Too Soon
So, Rooney’s skills have never been the issue. One reason many don’t consider Rooney a great to rival the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker is that he started too soon. It can be argued that the United man has burned out. From the age of 16 he has been playing men’s football at the highest level, that may sound strange, but most players are not playing consistently at the top of the game until their early 20s.
Rooney peaked early. His best seasons in a Manchester United shirt came between 2009 and 2012, since then he has broken the 15 goal barrier just once in the previous three campaigns. Take his England career. He only really scaled any heights at a major tournament in 2004 and one of the greatest criticisms aimed at Rooney is that he has never delivered and the grandest of stages for his country.
At the age of 18 he was performing like he should at the age of 24, it is only normal that now, at 29 he appears to be slightly on the wane. Much like fellow teenage prodigy Michael Owen, perhaps short memories means people do not hold Rooney in such high regard.
A reluctant centre forward
Rooney was never a player destined to be a genuine number nine. It’s unclear what he believes his best position to be but many a manager has opted to play him as lone striker. But in all honesty, that is not the position that suits him best. Yes, he scored more goals in that position in that wonderful campaign for the Red Devils back in 2011/12, but that is testament to Rooney’s abilities in front of goal.
He is a player who simply loves the football, a rare breed in the English game. However, his eye for goal and impressive strikerate have seen him almost forced into the central striker berth, when in actual fact he is much suited to playing off another forward. He is regularly asked to take up the mantle and lead from the front but that is simply not his game.
The problem for Rooney is that he has been used in that number nine role for so long now that when he has dropped in to his more natural position of a 10 he has looked little off the pace. The game has moved on in recent years and an unfamiliarity with the modern demands of that position has left the Croxteth-born schemer in no man’s land. He is no longer a number nine or number 10, he is something akin to a nine and a half.
When a legend departs he will be appreciated
Like it or not, Wayne Rooney will go down as an England legend. He will retire as his country’s greatest-ever goalscorer and most probably their most capped player. Rooney landed in a generation when the demand has been for a more natural, functional goalscorer. What we were given is a ball playing link player, who just so happened to be pretty good at sticking the ball in the back of the net.
He was cast in the wrong role. Rooney is the most un-English of England players. Too much too young may be the case, but in years to come when England are searching for that creative force, people will appreciate what a wonderful footballer he has been for his country.