Wayne Rooney leaves his England career, much like he left major international tournaments. With a whimper, many left wondering what could have been. The numbers of his 14 year-long stint with the Three Lions fly the flag of brilliance, but nobody truly believes that the forward fulfilled the potential which shone incandescently at Euro 2004. Not even Rooney.
As he took stock of his time in international football, that realisation lingered on. “One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side. Hopefully the exciting players Gareth (Southgate) is bringing through can take that ambition further and I hope everyone will get behind the team. One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan — or in any capacity.”
Perhaps, there’s another chapter to be written for Rooney and England. He may go on to become a manager who leads his country again. But that possibility exists in the realm of the speculative alone. For now, Rooney’s England career is blemished with disappointments.
The Everton striker, who turns 32 in October, clearly had one final shot at redemption. The World Cup in Russia next year was widely considered to be his swansong. But Rooney has had a difficult relationship with football’s showpiece event. A fractured metatarsal hampered him in 2006 and ankle problems followed him four years later; in 2014, he had begun his descent towards the Rooney we know now.
It is worth noting that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be in Russia next year, in the hope that they can carve another milestone in international football. Rooney, who was once touted to be their equal, will not even be there. With his changing priorities, the forward has chosen to not share the stage anymore. Rooney has seemingly made peace with his unfulfilled promise.
But there was a time when he would have felt his rightful place was among the world’s best. Club football, arguably, offered the clearest points of divergence. Not that international football has been particularly kind to Messi or Ronaldo (although, the latter arguably has ticked that box off too with Portugal’s Euro 2016 success). However, it is in club competitions that Rooney really could never touch the stratosphere where his illustrious competitors reside.
Was he not the player we thought him to be? Perhaps. Rooney could never claim to possess the superior fitness levels of Ronaldo. Nor could he reasonably claim the ethereal brilliance for which Messi has become a byword. He had some of the genius, which constantly sought to explore its boundaries. His futile experiments at turning himself into a central midfielder, a playmaker or a wide forward only left him with a sense of his limitations.
When the goals were not there, there was the intense work-rate and insatiable determination. But the frustration boiled over when those attributes proved to be not enough. The infamous red mist blighted Rooney, with his most public breakdown occurring at the 2006 World Cup when he was sent off in the quarter-final against Portugal.
Despite his other gifts, it is difficult to imagine Rooney without the goals. The pile-drivers, the top corner smashes, the headers and the tap-ins. His goals ensured that England managers were never averse to afford him a position of prominence within the national setup. The talent, the vision and the skill would find their purest shape in Rooney’s goals. It is perhaps not a surprise that the Liverpudlian’s stock fell as his most decisive contribution dropped away in the last couple of seasons.
The return of 53 goals in 119 games, though, is a record haul for England. No player scored more goals, neither did any outfield player make more appearances for the country. These achievements, in themselves, are worthy of a celebration. Rooney had a respectable career for England. But the decorations feel a bit too simple.
For Rooney had that inarticulable thing among his bearings — vision. It is something we associate with every great player. It is a combination of elements — prescience and deftness come to mind. In Rooney’s England career, we saw its most expansive demonstration during Euro 2004 when the 18-year-old boy from Liverpool set the tournament alight. Four goals in two games for a forward who was already his country’s youngest ever goal scorer.
English players had left their mark on major tournaments before but Rooney played with an unprecedented assurance. Michael Owen and Paul Gascoigne had moments, Rooney seemed to carry an entire reel of excellence. He was supposed to be England’s answer to all the genius, totemic figures other major football nations could boast.
Sadly, like Owen and Gascoigne, Rooney’s story was also one of more misses than hits. The failures of his career have been well articulated. But his genius was not. There was a greater, more decisive player in Rooney. But his articulation could rise only slightly above the latent. The whimpering song of Rooney’s England career hit the high notes, but rarely.
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Updated Date: Aug 24, 2017 17:46:33 IST