Perhaps it’s because of the perpetual rain, or the eternally overcast days. Or perhaps it’s because as a nation we are in possession of an inflated sense of importance derived from past glories that have long since faded. Whatever the reason, we the English are in possession of a certain gloom, a self-deprecating attitude that celebrates being rubbish, route for the underdog and criticise the successful. It is in this bracket which Wayne Rooney falls, scapegoated for the failures of England’s national side simply for being its best player. As Rooney reached he landmark of 100 caps, and closed in on Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record ahead of the European qualifier Slovenia, the media was dominated by the question ‘is Rooney an England great?’
Regardless of what some people may say, the answer is that of course he is; Rooney probably isn’t the best English player of all time, but he is the best of his generation and worthy of being considered as such. Every international break is there is some clamour about whether or not Rooney deserves his place in the squad, but the reality is that England have no forwards as capable the Manchester United striker. It was Rooney that got England back in the game against Slovenia, and it was Rooney that grabbed the winner in the tepid display against Estonia, yet the critics remain.
Without fail, ahead of every squad selection there are clamours for Hodgson, and before him his predecessors, to select ‘form’ players. Of course we want players in the England squad that are doing well and in form, it is also important to reward English players who are impressing regardless of what club they are turning out for. However, any player can have a good month or year, it takes real quality to sustain that level season after season, and like him or not, Wayne Rooney has done that. Furthermore, all too often these so called ‘form’ players, whilst doing very well, are not doing better than the men people are clamouring to be replaced. Rickie Lambert deserved to make the World Cup squad on the back of two brilliant seasons with Southampton, but just a few months on he can barely get a game at Liverpool.
Saido Berahino has been called up and will hopefully progress. Harry Kane and Charlie Austin have also made a good case for selection this season, but not at the expense of Rooney. Hopefully these players are the real deal, hopefully they kick on and become star strikers for England, leading the line for a new generation of young players who genuinely seem as if they will be capable of challenging for honours. However, there were similar hopes for Agbonlahor. At other times the ‘form man’ was Darren Bent, or Jay Bothroyd, or Bobby Zamora, but that’s all they turned.out to be, solid players who hit a purple patch. Meanwhile, Rooney has always been there, consistently deserving his place.
Has Rooney been guilty of under-performing at major tournaments? Yes, but so have England, and that is the context in which Rooney’s England record needs to be viewed within. Rooney has suffered due to his own versatility and hard work; when you are deployed out of position and forced to drop deep or track back due to having to compensate for your teammates, as a striker your performances and your goal record is always going to suffer. The fact is, Rooney has always been more than just a No.9, making chances and assists has always been a big part of his game, and England quite simply haven’t had the players to put them away. That looks to be changing now, and hopefully Rooney can lead this new generation to the international honours he deserves. However, if the hopes and expectations for this latest crop again end in disappointment, the blame should not rest with Rooney.
It’s fair to argue that Rooney hasn’t quite lived up to the potential that everyone thought he had when he burst on the scene as a raw teenager for Everton, but those expectations were always going to be near impossible to live up to. If he has not quite risen to the very top bracket of players in the world, he is not far off, and Wayne Rooney would walk into all but a handful of teams’ starting elevens, whether that is club or country. Were he any other nationality, Rooney would be celebrated, instead in a typical display of English grumpiness we turn on our best and most successful.