Rooney has been somewhat of a controversial figure in the world of football, no less during his outings as an England player which began almost fifteen years ago. It was Sven Goran Eriksson’s decision to recruit the 17-year-old for a friendly against Australia in February 2003, taking to the field after halftime as part of a complete reshift of the team after the interval. At the time, this earned him the accolade of youngest player to play for England at 17 years and 111 days old – a record later eclipsed by Theo Walcott during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
And it wasn’t long after that the teenage sensation made his mark on the international stage, scoring his first senior goal for the country in a 2-1 win against Macedonia in a Euro 2004 qualifier later that year, establishing him as the youngest player to ever score for England.
The following year after England’s qualification for the tournament, Rooney truly impressed on the big stage, scoring four goals which earned him another award as the youngest ever scorer in the competition and more importantly, helped fire England all the way to the quarter-finals of the competition where they met the hosts Portugal. Sadly, the unthinkable occurred and the nation’s chances of winning a major tournament crumbled before them as an injured Wayne Rooney limped off partway through the match and saw his side knocked out on penalties.
It’s easy to speculate what could or what would have been had things transpired differently on that fateful evening, but it’s fair to say that all parties are universally in agreement that those appearances produced some of the player’s strongest highlights in an England shirt. Which is where the cut-off point clearly reveals itself and is when the complications surface.
A strong number feel the former Everton wonder kid peaked early on the international stage and that fans were never subjected to a similar calibre of performances since his first major tournament. While it’s difficult to argue that his impressive individuality and unwavering enthusiasm displayed that year has never been recaptured in subsequent tournaments, England’s own success has also rapidly deteriorated since that year.
But it’s unfair to rest an entire nation’s expectations on one player, particularly one who already has the pressure of the captaincy and the onus on being a striker to balance. Those who are eager to denounce his impact seemingly do so without considering his versatility – including his ability to engineer himself as a team player throughout his career. We’ve seen a maturity in his demeanour and playing style establish itself in the later years of his career after taking on the role of captain for club and country which most never foresaw after an early reputation as an irrational hothead.
It’s also easy to discount all those significant qualifying goals that he has contributed as well as goals during tournaments, despite the attached disappointment from England as a whole. He has been banded in the same category as Gerrard and Lampard are in that instead of focusing on and appreciating the substantial contributions each individual has made for the country, that is overshadowed by a fixation for minor incompletions.
The statistics are also favourably in Rooney’s corner. Having made 119 appearances – a number only bested by Peter Shilton with 125 – the forward returned 53 goals making him the all-time highest goal scorer in an England shirt; surpassing Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 in as many games. These have included appearances under a number of different roles from central midfield, to a wide forward position to his natural role as a striker. With all things considered, this should unequivocally earn Wayne Rooney an untouchable status amongst the pantheon of greatest players of all time, but there is a perpetual air of cynicism hovering over some England fans.
That’s not to say that Rooney is without his faults, however. While not quite in the same camp as Paul Gascoigne, he has provided his fair share of negatives. Noteworthy examples include being sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during the 2006 World Cup after a late fitness test prior to the tournament, being part of the England side that missed out on Euro 2008 after finishing third in the Qualifying group behind Croatia and Russia, criticising fans for booing at full-time of the 0-0 draw with Algeria and missing two games at the finals in 2012 after being red carded for a challenge on Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic.
Although, he himself has been the most critical of these individual moments. He understands the criticism from the fans during the team’s underwhelming 2010 performances and anybody could make the mistake of being wrapped up by the frustrations of such a game. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who is as deeply passionate to play for their country as Rooney was, which can be traced back to his decision to reject an offer to play for the Republic of Ireland at age 16, describing himself as “English through and through”.
Given the nature of the game and its tendency to overlook precious possessions, I think it’s safe to declare that Wayne Rooney’s legacy will live on for generations and could well prove the classic phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is as true as it claims.