It’s perhaps appropriate in the week that Wayne Rooney’s testimonial is announced – between the club, Everton, that set him on the road to international stardom and the team that he has won ten major honours with – that the lad from Croxteth still divides opinion when it comes to his role in an England side on the eve of the Euro 2016.
The circus that surrounded Rooney’s first bow in an international competition, twelve years ago in Portugal, may have packed-up and moved on – but it’s testament to the player that his game has evolved in such a way that England manager, Roy Hodgson, still has a decision to make when it comes to where his most experienced player plays… rather than if.
Rooney is no longer the same player who stormed onto the world stage at Euro 2004, with his pent up aggression and seemingly endless amounts of energy. Of course he’s not… but, who is? Look in the mirror: are you the same person you were twelve years ago? Are you able to do the same things you were in your teens? And, let’s face it, would you really want to? We all grow old and most of us accept to deal with it and play to our strengths – whether it’s in our work life, when it comes to our families or (God forbid) our social lives. Why is Wayne Rooney any different when it comes to the role he now plays on a football pitch?
I can hear the doubters. Rooney is a busted flush. A spent force. Yesterday’s man. That is merely opinion, though. The cold, hard and tangible facts state that this is a man who recently broke the all-time scoring record for his country, eclipsing Bobby Charlton’s tally of 49. That’s something that many illustrious names before him have tried, and failed, to achieve. Rooney is also on the brink of becoming Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer, too, already sitting proudly above the likes of Dennis Law, Jack Rowley and George Best. Think about that: a footballer, still playing, who holds all-time goalscoring records for a club as successful as Manchester United and a country that has produced a plethora of great marksmen…
He’s also a man who has been instrumental in winning five Premier League titles, a Champions League triumph and (just last month) was the player who pulled United back from the brink, single-handed, of what would have been a devastating FA Cup Final defeat with a slaloming run that told the world he is far from finished. That run was devastating – but it was as much about Rooney’s will to win, than his ability with a football. Let’s be honest, nobody else on the pitch that day looked willing or even able to do anything even remotely similar. Which brings us nicely back to England…
Why are there still those who raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of Rooney – the most prolific goalscorer England has ever produced? His game has changed as football has changed and his own sands of time have shifted down a touch. He’s (successfully) adapted at club level… why do many believe he can’t he do the same for the national side? Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t really shone at a major tournament since that initial burst over a decade ago – but England haven’t set many big games alight since then, either.
If Rooney is prepared to accept change and move with the times in order to achieve success – or simply to accommodate fresh talent which might just take England to the brink of their first trophy in 50 years – why are others so reluctant? This is a man who has proven time and time again that he will always leave everything on a football field, whatever he is asked to do for his club. Now, at Euro 2016, he has the opportunity to do the same for his country.
And, let’s be honest, Wayne Rooney’s best is better than anybody else’s with three lions on their shirt this June.
Pic courtesy UEFA