Why Wayne Rooney Should Never Be Captain Of Anything


What do you look for in a captain?

Are you after a genuine leader of men? A consistent performer? A good communicator? A well-rounded, upstanding human being? The kind of guy who, when your backs are against the wall, pulls out all of the stops for his team - a carrier of burdens, a cool head under pressure, an inspiration? 

Perhaps, in an ideal world, you'd look for all of the above.

But how about none of the above...

How about a man who cannot lead, communicate adeptly, or perform consistently; a man with a track record for blowing his top under pressure and crumbling under a weight of expectation. A man who'd be laughed out of the room were he to claim to be an upstanding member of society.

Introducing your new national team captain. Ladies and gentleman, Mr Wayne Rooney.

There are more than 60 million people in this country. And on the basis of the aforementioned criteria, few of them are less qualified than Rooney to lead their country into battle.

A decade into his international career, and the boy who would be king has proved to be less Horacio Nelson and more Henry VIII; a lumbering, juvenile, self-centred narcisist, with a tendency to put his own petulance above his responsibilities, especially when the going gets tough.

I could go on about Gelsenkircken in 2006, when he got himself sent off for a needless stamp in the World Cup quarter final against Portugal. I could cite his escapades in South Africa in 2010, where he performed like a lost little schoolboy and behaved like a playground bully. I could look back to the winter of 2011, when his tantrum away in Montenegro cost him half his playing time at Euro 2012. The evidence is abundant. 

But it wasn't always like this. Rooney was amazing in an England shirt - for all of two weeks - during the European Championships of 2004. For that fortnight, his performances were stunning. 18-year-old Wazza was all-encompassing, vibrant, fearless and, ultimately, the best player at a tournament that included the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo and Pirlo.

Suddenly, almost out of the blue, we had a bona fide warrior in our ranks, and he was inspiring his contemporaries to new highs in terms of performance. An absolute teen sensation, the like of which this country had never seen, Rooney boasted the same low, well-built carriage that served the likes of Diego Maradona and Paul Gascoigne so well in the decades before him. Sadly, as it has turned out, he also shares their same propensity to self-destruct. 

Euro 2004, give or take a couple of matches since, is where his three lions fairytale peaked. And he's been dining out on his success at that tournament ever since. Indeed, in the intervening ten years, he's trudged from one underwhelming international performance to another: inhibited, grumbling, shoulder-shrugging, and, at his worst, plainly uninterested.

I put it to you that Wayne Rooney - often heralded as the greatest British footballer of his generation - has been England's biggest single disappointment of the 21st Century.

Sure, people will point to his international goalscoring record of 40 goals in 95 games, which at first glance does look impressive. But the majority of these goals have come against the likes of Andorra and Kazakstan. 

Given carte blanche as first forward on the team sheet in England's line-up, I'm sure many professional strikers could feast on chances against such minnows. Most pertinently, though, Rooney has scored just twice in major tournaments since 2004. And each of them were tap-ins he stumbled upon in otherwise disappointing displays. 

I have little doubt his team-mates will accept Rooney as Hodgson's choice for skipper, following Steven Gerrard's retirement. But that's not to suggest they would've voted him in given the choice. They'll know about his history of indiscretions in the white of England. They'll be perfectly aware that he's spent almost every big game in recent years either hiding, moaning, lashing out or shrugging his shoulders.

Having spent so much time in his presence, they will also know that he hasn't the personality to inspire. I say this because I too have spent time with Wayne Rooney, and I found him to be about as inspirational as a mouldy tin of rice pudding.

There are those observers who say the identity of England's captain is incidental; that a national team should have eleven leaders on the pitch and that who wears the armband is merely a media obsession. But they couldn't be more wrong.

The captain of England is the manager's chief lieutenant and the team's heartbeat; an island of solidarity in a choppy maelstrom of international waters. The skipper is also the focal point for the media and the fans, and especially for the millions of children who worship the ground he walks on. As I see it, the armband is far from incidental. It means pride, prestige, honour and ambassadorial stature.

We've had great and good captains in the past, among them Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Terry Butcher and David Beckham, and the responsibility meant the world to each of them. So why turn it into an insignificant, incidental factor now? 

"It's a great honour, something I'm really proud of," mumbled Rooney at a depressingly contrived media briefing when he was made stand-in skipper for a game against San Marino in October 2012.

Rooney scored twice that night, as England cruised to a 5-0 victory. But that was against San Marino. The wider issue that night was that Hodgson's decision to promote Rooney - ahead of his better-qualified peers - served as an indicator of the manager's intentions. Fast forward to today, and it seems inevtiable that Rooney will be named the new permanent captain of England. That should alarm every single player, supporter, sponsor and parent.

For Wayne Rooney the international footballer is a tortured soul, and a perennial let-down; a hotheaded, mumbling, grumbling bottle job. And, a cast iron prototype of exactly what you don't look for in a captain.