It’s unbelievable to think that people still doubt Wayne Rooney in anything other than his hair management. Five Premier League titles, three League Cups, a Super Cup and a Champions League, as well as being Manchester United’s third ever highest goalscorer (230) and England’s second (48) are achievements that almost any footballer would envy.And at the age of 29, with time on his side, it is fair to suggest that he will definitely become the greatest goalscorer in his national side’s history, will be near if not at the summit of his club’s goalscoring charts, and shouldn’t be too far behind Alan Shearer’s record in the pantheon of top Premier League strikers.
With this roll of honour to his name, it is hard to believe that anyone still questions the current captain of both Manchester United and England, but it is in the context of his undoubted ability, combined with the spectacular nature of his arrival on the English football scene as a 16 year-old (and THAT goal against Arsenal), the levels of achievement of his peers and his failure to ever make a meaningful impact for the England national side that tarnish Rooney’s legacy for many, if not all.
The Magic Moments
Oh, and there has been many of those. From that rasping strike from distance in his debut season for Everton to end Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten run – the ball fizzing past David Seaman in the Gunners’goal in such a manner to suggest the veteran England goalkeeper had never seen a ball hit with such power – to the dramatic impact he made for England at Euro 2004 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old (bagging braces against both Switzerland and Croatia in the group stages before limping out of the Quarter-Final defeat by hosts Portugal). From his 2004 Champions League debut for Manchester United, when he notched a hat-trick against Fenerbahce, to the spectacular overhead bicycle kick to win the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in 2011. Then there was the way he dovetailed beautifully with Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions league winning season of 2009, as well as the rasping volley he scored against Newcastle as a hot-headed 19 year-old in 2005 (notice the ‘row’ he was having with the referee merely moments before he took his frustration out on the ball and almost decapitated Shay Given in the Newcastle goal). A montage of Wayne Rooney goals is like a walk-down the lane of iconic Premier League moments.
Unlike a Fine Wine
Yet the eagle-eyed among you will notice those dates just listed, and confirm what many of us suspect – that Wayne Rooney’s best days are behind him. Also, it is the very nature of the dramatic impact that Rooney has had in his early days with both Everton and Manchester United, as well as his maiden major tournament with England in 2004, that only adds to the slight feeling of anti-climax many English supporters harbour when Rooney’s name is mentioned. Yes, supporters will point to a stellar career in which many achievementshave been secured, but will those achievements stack up against the sheer jaw-dropping awe-inspiring promise of those early, halcyon days?
The Evidence Against
For those who cannot shake the feeling that it has been promise left unrealised, there is significant supporting evidence. Despite winning the Premier League Player of the Season award in 2009-2010 (as well as the Premier League Player’s Player award that same year), Rooney has never finished in the top three in the voting for the Fifa World Player of the Year award (latterly the Balon d’Or). Furthermore, among his fine number of 48 strikes for England, only one was scored in a World Cup Finals’ match (in 2014’s defeat to Uruguay). Indeed, Rooney has never featured past a Quarter-Final stage at any major international tournament, and it is Rooney’s association with England’s famed yet ultimately failed ‘golden generation’ that mainly stokes that feeling of negativity which some hold in regard to the Liverpudlian, and it will be a sense that remains unless Rooney and England achieve the unlikely in the next couple of tournaments.
Rooney remains an integral part of both his national and club side, tasked with nurturing the young talent that Roy Hodgson and Louis Van Gaal are blooding in order to convert promising present into success-attaining future. Rooney will hope that the experiments of last year, where he played in centre midfield for Manchester United, are behind him so he can continue to do what he has done so well for so long – score goals. The early signs this season have not been good, and criticism is always quick to come his way from journalists and supporters of other clubs, but the truth remains that any success to be had by England or Manchester United will only be secured with Rooney at its heart. As Rooney reaches the latter stages of his career, perhaps it is time to accept that although not a Messi or a Ronaldo, or perhaps even a Robben or a Ribery, there is and remains only one Wayne Mark Rooney. And for adoring Manchester United (and to a lesser extent, England) supporters, as well of fans of the Premier League in general, that may well be just enough.
By: Steven Paget