Wayne Rooney recently won his 100th England cap a few weeks beyond his 29th birthday, ramming home a penalty against Slovenia for his 44th international goal. The new skipper followed that strike with a brace against Scotland a few days later, but did this merely reaffirm his reputation as a player who excels against lesser opposition?
Rooney first made back page headlines as a 16 year-old, when he caressed a sumptuous winner for Everton against title-chasing Arsenal in 2002, curling a 25 yard shot beyond despairing Gooners custodian David Seaman.
It seemed that England had a future star on their hands, and Sven Goran Eriksson was quick to recognise the wonderkid’s talent with Rooney’s Three Lions’ début making him the youngest player to represent the country a few months after his 17th birthday (a record since broken by Theo Walcott.)
An exciting four goal showing at Euro 2004 was followed by a lucrative £27m transfer to Manchester United, where the now 18 year-old enjoyed a dream début, netting a Champions hat-trick in a 6-2 home win against Fenerbahce, ensuring instant adoration amongst the Old Trafford faithful.
Despite continuing to prosper domestically, Rooney’s international form since those teenage kicks has fluctuated between feeble in major tournaments and exhilarating in friendlies or qualifiers.
TOP ENGLAND GOALSCORERS
1. Bobby Charlton: 49 in 106 matches
2. Gary Lineker: — 48 in 80
3. Wayne Rooney: – 46 in 101
4. Jimmy Greaves: – 44 in 57
5. Michael Owen: – 40 in 89
The player’s forgettable showing at this year’s World Cup only added fuel to the fire of those who see Rooney as little more than a flat track bully, someone who excels against relatively low standard opposition, whilst struggling to make an impact among the elite.
In 2014 it hardly helps that the national captain is flanked by a host of average players such as James Milner, Phil Jagielka, Rickie Lambert, Jordan Henderson ad nauseam, although the emergence of Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshire does offer cause for optimism.
It’s difficult to criticise “Wazza’s” goal scoring record for England, 46 goals in 101 matches, making him the third most prolific scorer in the country’s history and a mere three goals shy of fellow Man United icon Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 (scored at an almost identical rate.)
Ultimately perhaps it is due to the lofty expectations English football fans and the country’s media place upon the shoulders of promising young players that so many fall short of perceived potential. Comparing a 17 year-old Wayne Rooney to a 17 year-old Pele (a regular occurrence in tabloid newspapers in 2003) was like receiving the moon and demanding the stars as an aperitif.
Inevitably England’s third most prolific goal scorer of all time will take the top spot sooner rather than later (barring injury) and in that sense he can’t be considered a failure.
The fact that this should be wrapped up whilst the attacker is still in his 20’s is another gleaming feather in Rooney’s already overflowing cap, but to be considered a true great he must surely shine at Euro 2016 and/or the 2018 World Cup.
Only then will we know if Wayne’s world was one where the hype was disproportionate to the unfolding reality.