Image from Daily Mail
Wayne Rooney’s exclusion from England’s starting eleven on Tuesday night was not exactly a surprise to neither the fans nor the media following his poor run of form for club and country. Dropped in the same manner by his club manager Jose Mourinho as well as this setback has confirmed what has been a torrid month for the England captain, which will not only damage his streak of being an ever-present for his country, but his pride as well. I have been a strong defender of Rooney to those who have criticised him over the years, but the events of the past few weeks are simply too big to come back from, and it is for this reason why I believe that England should start looking to life beyond their record goal scorer.
Back in 2004, before the European Championships in Portugal, Rooney was the talk of the town and the best English prospect since the man he would go on to replace, Michael Owen. About to seal a then-club record move to Manchester United, he was named in team of the tournament, being a pivotal part in England’s group wins over Switzerland and Croatia. His injury in the quarterfinal against the host nation almost signaled the end of England’s chances in the tournament, but all was not lost, as it was widely expected for him to go on and become a world-beater and play an important role in potential England glory. But while being a consistently brilliant performer in qualifying campaigns over the years, his record in major tournaments has been far from impressive. Injury meant that he would go to the 2006 World Cup underprepared and not match fit, and his tournament was further destroyed by a red card in the last 16 tie against Portugal, which England would, of course, go on to lose on penalties. His commitment and temperament were questioned in the following World Cup in South Africa following a on-camera spat to the England fans in the stadium in the immediate aftermath of a 0-0 draw to Algeria, and these critics reappeared in Euro 2012 when Rooney was sent off in England’s penultimate qualifier for violent conduct, meaning he would miss his country’s first two group matches. In the 2014 World Cup and last summer’s European Championships, the England captain has been seen by many as being played out of position, giving off the impression that we are still waiting to see him to explode on the scene again, in the same way that he did twelve years ago.
Rooney is the last man standing from the golden generation that were not only extremely talented, but also in their prime footballing years. Players like David Beckham, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Owen were meant to steer England to victory in 2004 and 2006, but it never materialized. Of course this was to be expected, as Rooney was the youngest of the group, but the main fact is that he does not shows signs of improving as a footballer, or as a captain. The England team is already lacking in leaders, but as interim manager of the squad, Gareth Southgate should surely turn to his captain for support and leadership in what has been a torrid last couple of months for the national team, following an embarrassing Euro 2016 knockout defeat to Iceland and the sacking of Sam Allardyce after one match. To leave his captain out of the line-up for what was arguably England’s most difficult match of the qualifying campaign is a sign that he is no longer the man who has neither the hunger nor the ability to play an important role for his country.
Holding back the future
Not only has Rooney’s own personal ability come under fire recently, but accommodating his place in the England squad has held back some young England players from having the same opportunity that Rooney has sometimes wasted. The biggest casualty from Rooney’s inclusion is Ross Barkley, who has not been selected since not kicking a ball for England in the European Championships last June. It was just over two years ago that Barkley was the go-to-guy under Roy Hodgson in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and it looked like the stage was ready for him to make the same impact as Rooney did in Portugal in 2004. Now 22 and with the experience of even the Everton armband on a few occasions this season, his international experience cannot be furthered because a 30 year-old striker who has blown his opportunity on quite a few occasions is currently taking his place in the 23 man squad, let alone his midfield role in the starting line-up. Other players like Dele Alli, Jack Wilshere, and Adam Lallana, who, at their age, should be allowed to have the freedom to express themselves on the big stage are being held back and restricted because of Rooney’s inclusion. While I, along with most of the country, want to see Rooney do well and get his just rewards for being England’s record goal-scorer and always dedicated to the cause while others have given up, it is difficult to envisage him being the same man who had the fight and the energy which made England a threat.
It has not been all doom and gloom with regards to Wayne Rooney’s England career. As previously mentioned, 53 goals in 118 caps is no easy feat, and despite being left out on Tuesday night against Slovenia, he came out fighting in the press conference before the match, which shows his resilience as an international player. Despite all the poor results on the field and the many managers that have come and gone since his arrival at the international level, he has always made himself ready and available for the national team, while others have decided to put their club career first. On top of this, Rooney brings bags of experience with him, as he is the only current England player that has won everything that there is to win at club level; including the Champions League in 2008. However, it is clear that he does not have the energy or the hunger to compete for both club and country at the same time. Twelve years is a very long time to wait for someone reach their potential, and if Rooney wants to save his club career, which is already under threat, then maybe it is time for his to hang up his boots for England, and pass that armband on.