The days before the international break begins are some of the worst a football fan will experience after the pre-season headache. There is no top level football to see on TV, no team news or fresh statistics which all makes for a frustrating period. That is until England play and remind us that the previous days weren’t so bad after all.
With precious little to report on, the mainstream media have a tendency to single a player out for criticism, and over the past few years that person has been Wayne Rooney, and how he has consistently underperformed.
However, with Rooney approaching his 100th cap, the newspapers have been praising the England captain, and pundits have changed their tone out of respect for the Scouser’s century. Gary Lineker even said Rooney was one of the country’s greatest ever players. Best not to touch the new hallucinogenic flavour crisps anymore, Gary.
Whilst it is a fantastic achievement to reach 100 caps for your country, it should also be mentioned that longevity does not equal legendary status. If that were the case then lets herald David James, Kevin Davies and Gareth Barry alongside Ryan Giggs as some of the greatest ever Premier League players.
Rooney could also break the England goalscoring record, though, again, critics will analyse the sort of opposition those goals came against. With four against San Marino, three versus Kazakhstan and two each against Andorra, Belarus, Montenegro, Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia, his goals have been largely forgettable ones.
But for his early Euro 2004 form, 2014 World Cup goal against Uruguay, and just four against top ranked sides such as Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands, Rooney’s 43 England goals will not go down in history as some of England’s finest.
Although unfairly, Rooney’s legendary status will always be compared to the 1966 World Cup winners, those great players who are separated from the rest because they have held the World Cup, irrespective of ability. The squad from that era were certainly deserved winners, but it makes it difficult to argue any player’s position alongside them.
To fight Rooney’s corner, he should instead be compared to legends since then, such as David Beckham, Michael Owen, Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Terry Butcher and Alan Shearer.
The comparison between Rooney and Beckham is perhaps most pertinent, with the Evertonian striker now captain of his country. The way in which Beckham led England was unremarkable, but he stepped up when his country needed him, against Greece, Argentina (in Japan, not the stroppy, sulky flail of his leg) and Ecuador. Owen, Gascoigne, Butcher and Shearer all provided memorable, iconic moments which are rightly immortalised, whereas Rooney has yet to live up to his billing for England.
Euro 2004 aside, when Rooney was the James Rodriguez, the Thomas Muller of the tournament, he hadn’t performed anywhere near the level everyone expected. His red cards against Portugal and Montenegro were idiotic and he’s yet to change the public perception of him, not lest because he did the same recently against West Ham.
What Rooney needs is a big moment, not like against Estonia when England struggled against 10 men – but against a top team in a game that matters. He has to show his quality as a gamechanger or he will hang around the summit of England greats for years to come, sticking out like Lee Cattermole in a Barcelona top.