There are few careers to rate alongside that of Wayne Rooney. Some might suggest that he did not transcend in the manner expected when he blasted onto the England stage in a whizz of goals and tenacity. Though some may mark him as one of the most exemplary players of his generation who was the axis of an England team that always seemed to fall short.
Rooney has, on his own terms, stepped away from England duty at a time when the next generation are filing to take up the reigns he carried single handedly. Whilst not ousted from the Three Lions, there can be little doubt his influence was waning.
The Goal Getter
Yes, he is the all time top scorer of England’s national team. But questions spurt as to the deservedness of this title. The majority of his goals have come in qualifying rounds of World Cup and European Championship competition. Goals which have been struck with easy frequency against the likes of San Marino, Lithuania, Macedonia and other ‘minnow’ sides.
With the exception of that glorious opening chapter at Euro 2004, he has failed somewhat on the big stage. A goal at Euro 2012, another single strike at the World Cup 2014 and a penalty in the defeat to Iceland at last year’s Euro’s is all else Rooney has to show for being England’s greatest goal scorer.
Here is where Rooney deserves the most credit. Far be it from him to just dispatch the goals. He led by example, in outright determination not to admit defeat. Opinion is divided as to whether his indiscretions on the pitch were the actions of a boy, or the definition of a one man war against the entire opposition. That often seems to be how Rooney approached the games. He handled the enormity of the occasions himself, and led the way even when the armband was not his to wear.
In the build up to the World Cup of 2010, and Euro 2012, Rooney was injured in the months leading up to these tournaments. A nation stood in unified prayer as Rooney faced a race to be fit for both. That was how much they relied on him to be the weapon against the international heavyweights.
Yet where youngster took tentative steps, they always had Rooney to look to for guidance. He was the man they looked to on the training pitch and in the changing room. An example in his own right.
Doubters would suggest that he himself still had a lot of growing up to do, as petulance got the better of him on the pitch. Yet he never shirked responsibility, and always seemed a contender for the England captaincy once John Terry abdicated in 2012.
Hodgson handed him the armband in 2014, as the golden generation faded out and Rooney carried the team. Raw youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Eric Dier appeared around him, and suddenly he went from being the youngster out to prove himself to the responsible elder that the new generation looked to.
Rooney first made his bow on the international stage against Australia in 2003. After he lit the fuse on his career at Euro 2004, it was upwards from there. A 14 year career at the highest level of football and he stayed consistent throughout. The reigns of all coaches, from Sven Goran Eriksson through Steve McClaren, and to Roy Hodgson have all used Rooney as a base around which to build their own chapter of England football.
Now that is a hard act to follow. As far as England’s international players go, he will rank as one of the best. Not just for the goals he scored, but the contributions he made in every department.