Speaking to RoM for the World Cup preview, Sam Wallace, the chief football writer at The Independent, has discussed at length the importance of Wayne Rooney to England.
It never ceases to amaze how much bile he attracts. You might say Rooney’s curse was to be born English at the wrong time. There are so few others in his generation who have got close to being at his level and to push the group of players older than them. Look at the age profile of the current squad and those in and around Rooney’s age – he is 28, and turns 29 in October. It is only Leighton Baines (29), Gary Cahill (28) and James Milner (28). Between them those three have 92 caps (as of the Peru game). Rooney has 90 on his own. The issue is not the quality of Rooney – he is a very good footballer – the brutal truth is that we should have been able to produce more who are as good as him.
That said, of course he is important to England. There is already a debate in the Sunday papers post-Peru over whether he should be dropped, although I feel that owes more to the lack of meaty issues elsewhere. The Peru game was his first since 26 April so, to my mind, it is too early for that. He has done his best to get ready for this tournament, which at least shows he has learned from previous mistakes.
Rooney feels like the last of a generation of a certain type of English player. If you grew up in England at whatever level you watched or played the game, you will have encountered the Rooney type. He is the big, strong boy with the best touch on the pitch and a great shot. He is capable of ‘affecting games’ – as the modern coach-speech has it – and he has a few reliable old tricks up his sleeve which he rolls out to great effect.
t was interesting that Sir Alex Ferguson noted in his new autobiography that Rooney found it difficult to absorb new concepts when he was coached and generally fell back on what he knew best. Even allowing for their mutual bitterness, you could see his point. Rooney’s optimum time for England was the 2006 World Cup finals when he was coming nicely to maturity after two years at United and was still young enough and fresh enough. That tournament blew up horribly on the back of injury and I feel that, for England, he has been chasing his losses since then.
That said, he is probably going to break Bobby Charlton’s 49-goal international record which has stood for four decades. There is a reason why it has lasted so long when generally the trend in sport is for records to fall. It’s because it’s a bloody good return on an international career. I imagine there will be much handwringing at the end of Rooney’s England years as his many critics try to reconcile his big haul of goals with what will, in all likelihood, be very little tournament success. My argument would be that, for all his own faults, he has not been blessed with a great supporting cast.
As for being the last of a generation, my impression is that English football, with its vast investment in youth development, will turn out fewer players like Rooney, with his Saturday-night-on-the-high-street temper and his fuck-you attitude. The new academy system and EPPP may well be a success for the big clubs but like the English public school system it will turn out a certain type. And it won’t be the type that thinks a cigarette in the pool is tournament preparation.
Sam also discusses England’s chances, the inclusion of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Roy Hodgson’s ability to do the job, amongst other things. Get the RoM World Cup preview for just £4 and get the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you are donating to the Trafford Macmillan Wellbeing Centre.
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