Posted on: November 12th, 2014 | by Flaviu | No Comments

Last Updated on: 3rd December 2020, 11:57 am


Wayne Rooney. Rarely has an England international polarised opinion in such a way. This week the Manchester United captain will enter the pantheon of players to reach 100 England caps, and on that basis should be elevated by the media to the level of hero-worship recently enjoyed by fellow centurions Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and even Ashley Cole.

But he won’t. For many, Wayne Rooney represents that all-so-English of footballing things; an opportunity lost. Rooney’s century cap will set debate ablaze as to the quality of his career.

As sweeping stereotypes go, this one will always ring true; the English love a moan, and in the case of the man who was hailed as ‘The White Pele’ when he burst onto the scene as a blood-and-thunder 17-year-old, there is much to moan about.

This is not to say that Rooney is a failure. Far, far from it. Barring horrendous injury or natural disaster, the 29-year-old will go on to be England’s highest cap-holder and their highest goal scorer. He’ll go on to become Manchester United’s highest ever goal scorer. In terms of sheer statistics, he will go on to be England’s greatest footballer of all-time.

The frustration comes with the realisation that this is simply not the case. ‘The White Pele’ burst onto the scene with a goal befitting any player in the world – that Arsenal-defying strike as a 17-year-old for Everton in 2002. And before his career had even started, he had been defined by a 10-second clip. The White Pele – the man who could fire England to World Cup glory.

That young, raw young Scouser played 77 games for Everton before he had turned 19. In those 77 games, he scored 14 goals. Granted, he was playing in an average side, and he was not and will never be regarded as an out-and-out goal poacher (47% of his career goals have been scored from outside of the area). But in that time those goals were set alongside only 5 assists. Stats never tell the whole story – but there is an argument to suggest that the hype wasn’t justified.

Compare these stats with the breakthrough seasons those of other English ‘wonderkids’ – Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen or Raheem Sterling, and they fall by the wayside. Huge pressure was applied to these examples, including Sterling, who is currently living the cycle of a bright, young, English superstar, but nothing like that of Rooney.

There are reasons for this, including a £30m transfer to what was the world’s biggest club, but what is more interesting is that comparison with those bright, young contemporaries, all of whom also ironically broke through on Merseyside.

Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler both burnt out. Hard. Sterling’s fate, of course, is still yet to be seen, but compared with the stock of those who have gone before, and Rooney is close to living a Groundhog Day.

It’s a source of constant debate as to how English football cures is wonderkid curse, but that is where much of the frustration lies. He could have been so much more. Barring two exceptional seasons in 2009/10 and 2011/12 where he set the league alight, Rooney has passed the 15 goal mark only once. He’s won the ‘Player of the Year’ and ‘Player’s Player of the Year’, but only once. Hardly the work of The White Pele.

As for England? Abject disappointment. As the fresh, young injection of energy in the ‘Golden Age’ of English football in the mid-00s, Rooney was often spectacular. His performance in the 2004 European Championships was almost worthy of that crippling nickname, but he followed it up with a Ronaldo-induced red card and the lasting image of that tournament was of his dismissal. More frustration.

His performances in the qualifying campaigns of later tournaments were sometimes equally brilliant, but the fact that these tournaments tend to come around at the end of a long and arduous season means the injury-laden Rooney has never actually been fit on the world stage. In fairness, he was one of the best of a very bad bunch at this year’s World Cup, but even then, the 29-year-old Rooney is a pale imitation of what the 17-year-old’s hype suggested.

Wayne Rooney, without a doubt, is very much deserving of the 100+ caps he will achieve. He is deserving of the accolades and historical prestige he will no doubt receive due to his steady consistency for both club and country. Who knows? Once he is retired and gone perhaps we will appreciate Rooney more than we do now, much in the style of Paul Scholes.

As it stands, he’s great, he’s our best player. In many, many ways, he’s an unbridled success story. But he’s not quite what he could have been. And that is what rankles.

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