The looks of the English Chelsea players faces when Rooney went down in their penalty area, shouting and waving his arms in the air, showed more clearly than anything else what bad news this was for England. They knew they had their title wrapped up, and for a moment or two, you could tell their minds were on nothing other than their World Cup hopes. Lampard, going to this World Cup at his peak, will have felt this more strongly than the likes of Joe Cole and John Terry who surely have more World Cups ahead of them. Will Lampard be playing in South Africa in 2010? Chances are he probably won’t.
Wayne Rooney, aside from this World Cup, probably has at least two in his future. As much as some United fans want him to see sense, want him not to risk himself when he has other opportunities to shine, there is no way anyone will be able to convince Rooney to pull out. He loves playing football, which of course is taken as a given for any professional footballer, but as recent times have shown, isn’t necessarily always the case if there’s more money being paid to sit on the bench elsewhere. Rooney is not one of those players, he looks extremely annoyed every time he is substituted, and is always desperate to prove himself.
His debut for United followed his 64 day break from football, after the hopes of the nation collapsed simultaneously with Rooney falling to the ground half an hour in to England’s semi final game in Euro 2004 (after putting up a good fight. Still chasing down the ball with one boot and a broken metatarsal bone). Rooney, then 18, had never played in Europe before, and with no match fitness, a rather rusty Rooney was expected. He played 90 minutes and scored a hatrick, the first of his professional career. He was committed to prove why United had forked out so much money for him, a teenager.
Rooney wants to play, and will want to prove why so much fuss has been made about his injury. Chelsea won back to back titles for the first time in their history, but the next day, and for the weeks that followed, more than enough column inches were given to Rooney’s injury than Chelsea’s achievement. Now his first World Cup roles around, and he is injured again. England and United fans are both frustrated, but many of them for different reasons.
After Rooney’s sending off against Villarreal, and his behaviour for England against Spain, the country was in uproar. Wayne Rooney’s petulance was going to cost us the World Cup. He was a disgrace. Rooney swears at a referee and he’s chastised by everyone. We’ll forget he’s the most important player England has for a moment, and then let’s lay in to him. England isn’t England if it isn’t building people up only to tear them down.
This isn’t the first time United fans have seen this though. I’ve mentioned past players who have been given a hard time by this country already in this blog. But like United stuck by Beckham after he returned from that World Cup, United have stuck by Rooney. After the England vs Spain game, Carlos Queiroz had a word. “Every time we play we learn, and I am sure the lessons from Wednesday night are not only for Rooney – they are for the whole England team,” he said. “The tackles were not only from Rooney. Some other players have problems with some other ugly tackles, worse than Rooney. What I can’t accept is that once again it seems like a player from Man United becomes the bad guy and the others the nice guys, just because we don’t talk about what happened with the others.”
Now the country is back to the Rooney worshipping, and are all desperate for him to play. I mean, it’s not their domestic seasons that will be ruined if Rooney injures himself further. He is England’s last hope, if the poor showing against lowly Paraguay is anything to go by, and so if he isn’t up to scratch, then it really will be the final nail in England’s coffin.
A couple of months ago, I couldn’t wait until the World Cup. I wasn’t too hopeful of England’s chances, but as well as looking forward to seeing some of the best players in the World on the telly on a daily basis, I was looking forward to seeing Rooney shine. He loves the big stage, thrives on it, and I could watch him play for hours. He really is a joy to watch. But since his injury, my mind has more been on United’s season, not England’s weak and ever fading chances of glory.
I’m not writing him off though. I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if Rooney came on against Trinidad and Tobago (which it is now rumoured will happen) and had a cracking game. If anyone can do it, it is him. But I can’t stand to see United’s season ruined again through crucial injuries, and there’s no player more crucial than Wayne. As much as rival domestic team England fans are gutted to see him injured right now, and as much as they will share and boast of his skill if he does well in this World Cup… don’t expect them to shed a tear if Rooney does himself a bigger injury and is out for the start of next season.
If Sven had picked a decent team, maybe the pressure would be off Rooney a bit. The idea of Michael Owen getting injured and Theo Walcott coming on (this is obviously hypothetical situation, because if Owen does get injured, Walcott will not be coming off the bench, and we all know this) is unbearable. But no, that won’t happen. Gerrard would play up front and the mighty Hargreaves would come on, or Joe Cole would play there and Downing, once a “great prospect”, and now just a pretty average player would be put on the wing. England need to be extremely convincing in these group stages to lift the pressure from Rooney, to show that England are a good side without him, and can progress without his influence. If they are to, someone needs to step up to the plate. Someone needs to play with the passion and ambition that Rooney does, but who? The team weren’t convincing against Paraguay, and it begs the question whether they can be without him.
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