BY CHRIS BARDET
Wayne Rooney. At 31 years old, it looks like his time at the elite level is over. Left out of Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad, and undoubtedly on his way out of Manchester United, perhaps now is the best time to look at his career and decide just how will we remember the man known as Wazza.
We all know the story. The late winner for Everton against Arsenal. The standout tournament with England at Euro 2004. The hat-trick on his debut for Manchester United. The countless disappointments with the national team since. The goals and trophies with United. The transfer request(s) with United. Record goal scorer for both club and country. Just why is the English footballing public so split on Rooney?
The numerous failings with the national team haven’t helped. Five major tournaments with England since the first in Portugal 13 years ago. A solitary goal scored at World Cup Finals. Yet, he wasn’t the only one who failed. How many times did we wait for the Gerrard/Lampard midfield axis to work? It never did. Yet the criticism was never as fierce for them as it was with Rooney.
Maiden International Tournament
Did we expect too much? Maybe. Cast your mind back to Euro 2004, and England’s opening game against France. The one team Sven-Goran Eriksson didn’t want. Yet we took them on, with Rooney right at the front of it. A saved penalty, and then a late brace from Zidane broke our hearts but we had played well. Rooney then bagged a couple against Switzerland, with two more following in the beating of Croatia, before our quarter final with the hosts, Portugal.
‘If’ is the biggest word in football. ‘If’ this has happened, or ‘if’ that had happened, then who knows? But anyone watching that game that night can have no doubt; ‘if’ Rooney had stayed on the pitch and not been injured, we would have won that game and undoubtedly the tournament. He was that good, surrounded with players more than capable of putting in a performance as well.
But why did he never push on, on the international stage? Injuries, suspension and private life mishaps (!) never seemed far away with him. He never seemed to hit his peak at an international tournament, although the same could be said of both Cristiano Ronaldo (until 2016) and Lionel Messi.
The Big Two!
Yes, they both grabbed, and dominated, Champions League seasons. Not just one-off games, but regularly they were at the top of the goal scoring charts at the end of each campaign. Their consistency was, and still is, extraordinary. Sadly, Rooney wasn’t in their class. So few ever have been.
Manchester United fans have a strange relationship with their all-time record goal scorer. The ill-timed and equally ill-advised transfer request in 2010 has never truly been forgotten. If you remember, United had lost both Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez the previous summer, so the thought of losing another of their Champions League winning side of 2008 was not well received. When Rooney then got a new contract worth £250,000 a week just a matter of weeks later; well, their mood did not improve.
It’s also worth noting that United fans still adore Ronaldo and are split on Rooney. Yet, the latter has stayed there for the last 13 years or so while Ronaldo jumped ship at the first chance to join “the club of his dreams”. Football fans can be a funny bunch sometimes.
Maybe his unselfish footballing nature never let him reach the heights he could have. It would be Ronaldo who would go to break, and keep breaking, records all over Europe, rather than the man who was more than Cristiano’s equal during those early years together at Old Trafford. Rooney never looked after his body the same way that Ronaldo did, and continues to. Photos of the Liverpool born forward smoking and/or drinking have been all too regular in the tabloids down the years.
Ultimately, he will be remembered as a very good player rather than a great player. Which is sad. Because for those of us who remember Euro 2004, he was special. So, so special.
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