Wayne Rooney – England Legend?

Wayne Rooney retires form International Football

Wayne Rooney this week brought down the curtain on an international career that has seen him score a wonderful 59 goals in 119 appearances. So why was the nation so divided on where to judge him amongst England’s All-Time Greats?

Radio stations up and down the country were being bombarded with calls hailing Rooney as a legend and as one of the greatest to ever pull on an England jersey. Yet they were receiving equally as many calls from people looking to knock Rooney down a peg and label him as a failure.

Rooney finished his career as the most capped outfield player of all time with 119 caps, second only to the brilliant Peter Shilton (125 caps). He played more competitive matches for England, 74, than any other player ever. He’s the youngest player to appear in both European and World Cup qualifying matches. He is one of just two players to appear in six consecutive tournaments along with Sol Campbell. He’s the nations record scorer, both total and in competitive games, the youngest scorer in a host of different categories, and finished as his countries captain. He was well respected by all of his fellow professionals, managers, and pundits. So why are people so desperate to trash his legacy by declaring him a failure?

The biggest accusation leveled at the Everton striker is that he didn’t win anything as an England player. For me, this is a stupid argument. By that logic, Lionel Messi isn’t an Argentinean legend (unless you’re counting an Olympic gold medal), Johan Cruyff cannot be called a legend, nor can Zico for Brazil or Paolo Maldini or Roberto Baggio for Italy. Though I’m sure Brazil has statues and shrines in the hometowns of legendary World Cup winners Vampeta and Anderson Polga, whilst over in France you can’t even mention football without someone bringing up Stephane Guivarc’h.

If you are going to define legendary status on that, then only eleven players out of the hundreds to be capped by England can ever be defined as a legend. Gary Lineker won a World Cup golden boot, Paul Gascoigne won the hearts of the entire nation with his brilliance on the pitch and his madness off it.

In a team sport, it is virtually impossible to judge a players career by how many trophies they won, particularly at an international level where the tournaments are fewer and the competition much stronger. Rooney’s problem was that he was a key member of England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’. He took the Premier League by storm aged just 16, and the step up to international level didn’t seem to phase him either. For an 18-year-old, he was breathtaking at times during Euro 2004 in Portugal. Scoring four goals in the group stage in probably the best England side since the 1990 World Cup iteration, we finally began to think he could be the man to finally deliver us the title we felt we deserved. It wasn’t to be though, he suffered an injury in the quarter final against the hosts Portugal and England, as per usual, lost on penalties.

The World Cup in 2006 was set to be his redemption, yet another injury left him fighting a race against time to regain fitness in in time. It was to be a race he couldn’t win. His tournament was to end in disgrace, being sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho. People may look to this incident and hold it against him. He was young, naive, and I’m sure he instantly regretted his moment of madness. Much like David Beckham, years before when he kicked Diego Simeone. He incurred the wrath of the England faithful but won back their hearts. How many hesitated in naming Beckham a legend when he retired? Did he win anything with England?

Since 2006 the quality of the England squads around Rooney has seemed to gradually decline as the ‘Golden Generation’ passed their peaks and slipped out of contention. Yet Rooney was still the main man. He was still our great hope, the man we looked to when we needed a goal or a moment of magic. With Rooney on the pitch you never quite ruled England out of games. It never really happened for him at World Cups, with just the solitary goal coming in Brazil in 2014, but he was never really aided by a team around him performing to the best of their abilities.

Despite all of the above, I do believe the word ‘legend’ is vastly overused in football, and sport in general. The outburst over Rooney seemed to suggest that he was either a legend or a failure. One or the other. Heads or tails. It’s not as simple as that. Despite reluctance to accept him into the team because of his supposed ‘German-ness’, Owen Hargreaves gained popularity through a series of solid performances between 2006-07. He certainly wasn’t a failure for England, but in no way would you consider him a legend, why should Rooney be judged differently to others? Can we not just accept that Rooney was a great servant and a wonderful player for England without putting him in any sort of bracket for comparison?

In 20-30 England’s current, highly successful, youth sides may have moulded a series of teams good enough to challenge on the biggest stage, perhaps they will even win something. If after that Rooney still has more caps than everyone but Shilton, and is still the leading scorer, then maybe those desperate to call him a failure will realise what a precocious talent Rooney was and look back on his superb international career a little more kindly.

Featured image from google free to use images. Image by Ben Sutherland.

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