Upon his retirement, Wayne Rooney will sit proudly at the top of a list proclaiming him as England’s all-time top goalscorer. As in San Marino a few days earlier, Rooney coolly tucked away from the spot to help maintain England’s 100% start to European qualification with a 2-0 win against Switzerland at Wembley. But amidst all the praise rightly given to Rooney for such an achievement, it’s hard to place him in the same category as the likes of the Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst, or even Gary Lineker, all of whom had success at major tournaments.
If you cast your minds back to Euro 2004, on that evidence alone it would seem inconceivable that we would be discussing Rooney’s poor tournament showings. Bursting onto the scene a year earlier against Australia at Upton Park in February 2003, England’s new golden boy certainly lived up to his hype. Then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson described his performances as of the same magnitude of that of the great Pelé in the 1958 World Cup. Tearing Croatia to shreds, he complemented Michael Owen with energy and enthusiasm.
Since then, Rooney has become a shadow of the player he promised to be on the international stage. 50 international goals is something the 29-year-old should be rightly proud of, but when he looks back on a glittering domestic career, perhaps he will experience a tinge of regret having failed to consistently translate those showings internationally?Given his obvious talent, Rooney’s performances have been frustrating. He failed to replicate his tremendous performance in Portugal in 2004, kicking off a recurring metatarsal injury in the build up to the 2006 World Cup, and then ending it in disgrace having received his marching orders for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho in the quarter-final. As in 2004, England would exit on penalties to the Portuguese.
Rooney’s track record on the international stage arguably leaves a lot to be desired. It was only last year that he ended his unwanted record of failing to score at a World Cup, a fact largely forgotten when England crashed out at the group stage. Rooney shouldn’t be singled out for a failure to deliver a tournament victory as so many teams have seen success elude them since that great side in 1966.Like Owen before him, some may argue that Rooney peaked too soon. Others will point to a change in Rooney’s role from an archetypal striker to more of a number 10, a conversion made by Sir Alex Ferguson which often sees him playing in more of a midfield role. Perhaps Rooney is someone whose ability we will only fully appreciate when he’s gone. He may even go on to reach 60, 70 or perhaps even 80 international goals. Yet when you consider players in the world’s best category, has Rooney ever really elevated himself into the conversation of say, Lionel Messi or former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo?
Nevertheless, Rooney now displays a maturity like never before and gets ever closer to breaking Charlton’s goalscoring record at Manchester United too. Hopefully Rooney can banish his shortcomings on the big stage and justify his status as England’s all-time top goalscorer next summer. But until the Manchester United striker delivers when it matters at a major tournament he will never be able to be judged alongside the Charlton’s and the Hurst’s before him.
Image courtesy of Duncan Hull.