by Andy Robinson
In the week that marks his hundredth cap for England it has been no surprise that a lot has been written and said about Wayne Rooney over the last few days. With outstanding performances for Everton’s youth side Rooney was being lauded long before he burst onto the scene with his stunning goal against Arsenal the day before his seventeenth birthday. Another couple of goals against Wrexham in the League Cup and a winner at Elland Road followed and just a few short weeks later he was named the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year. Right there you have the problem that has plagued Rooney throughout his career. He was always expected to be better than he really was. The media, desperate for another Gazza, went along willingly. Even now those in the game blindly follow this mind-set and keep the image of Rooney as English football’s saviour high on their agenda. This week when describing Rooney, Roy Hodgson said “Having built him up to a very high level, they have worked hard to knock him back down again”. If he means the press, then Roy has really got it wrong because from where I sit he is praised as much as ever. What I know for a fact is that the football fans of England had Rooney sussed a long time ago. “The White Pele”? Not even close and certainly no cigar.
This isn’t to say that Rooney hasn’t been a great player. In his time he has been Footballer of the Year (receiving the plaudit from both writers and players) and he has man of the match accolades from two Champions League semi finals. He has five Premier League winner’s medals and a Champion’s League winners medal. At various moments in his career he has been the Premier League’s youngest goalscorer, England’s youngest goalscorer, the youngest to score a hat trick in the Champions League and the youngest to reach two hundred premiership appearances – all worthy accolades.
With Manchester United his career has been a success and if he can manage another three seasons or so he should go past 300 goals for the club. Much of his time however at United has been spent in the supporting role to the true stars of the side such as Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo and Van Persie. Perhaps it’s this selflessness where he finds himself pushed out wide or dropped back into midfield combined with his tireless work rate that brings him so much praise from his fellow professionals. The fact still remains that the true greats of the game don’t really play second fiddle.
Ultimately Rooney is going to be judged on his record at International level. It was said earlier in the week that for Rooney’s goal ratio per game to equal that of Jimmy Greaves he needs to score 34 goals in the Slovenia game. He has scored regularly for England and more often than not been our leading scorer in the qualifying groups. His only goals though against major nations such as Brazil and Argentina though have come in friendlies and the biggest stick used to beat Rooney is his performances in the major tournaments which have been incredibly poor by anyone’s standards and sadly on occasion criminally negligent. His petulant stamp on Carvalho in the World Cup Quarter final of 2006 ended the chances of an England side that for once, did actually have a chance.
Whenever I am asked about Rooney my standard answer has been that when he is was his very best he was Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley combined. The fleeting glimpse we got from Euro 2004 where he made football sit up and take notice was never to return. For those who aspire to legendary status and be rightfully considered a great of the game you need much, much more. The truth of the matter is that time and time again Wayne Rooney has let me, you and his country down.