Why Manchester United's Wayne Rooney Deserves More Respect
It has been only three weeks since Wayne Rooney reached 50 goals for England, surpassed the figure achieved by Sir Bobby Charlton’s record and becoming the country’s record goalscorer in the process. Since then, a number of observers; particularly on social media, have proclaimed their general apathy towards Wayne Rooney’s record. Even the mainstream media have forgotten about the record fairly quickly in my opinion. I am not angling for a parade or a knighthood, but why has his goal-scoring feat not been given more respect?
The records and playing styles of Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton have been discussed at great length and comparisons have unsurprisingly formed part of the coverage. The public image of each of the players will also inevitably cloud certain people’s judgement. Charlton was part of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, and Lineker was an extremely likeable player and has gone on to build a reputation as an equally likeable presenter. On the other hand, the public has not always looked upon Rooney anywhere near as favourably.
Rooney’s tournament record is often derided, however there have been many reasons for his perceived failure in big matches. 2004 was his tournament debut at the tender age of 18 and already he looked like England’s fulcrum, the shining light and the man to provide the spark that would ignite a trophy challenge. Injury would curtail his and England’s hopes that summer, however he still managed four goals which remains his most productive tournament to date. That is where the criticism started. In 2006, he was sent off for a stamp on Cristiano Ronaldo after an injury–hit build-up to the tournament. England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and injury also hampered preparations for the 2010 World Cup as Premier League pressures took their toll. He was banned for the first two matches of Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup was an unmitigated disaster for all those involved. The summer tournaments begin at the start of the qualifying and in that respect; regardless of the opposition, Rooney has shone like none other before him.
As part of the so called ’’golden generation’’, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard both failed to live up to their immense potentials when pulling on an England shirt. As the name suggests, they were surrounded by far more talent than Rooney currently is, yet neither has been derided for their perceived international failures in the same way.
There are also questions over whether he was always deployed correctly. Much like the Lampard/Gerrard midfield conundrum or playing Paul Scholes on the wing, Rooney has not always been used in the correct way. Rather than placing their best player in his chosen role, consecutive England managers have persisted in moving him between centre-forward and deeper-lying positions.
The apathy that supplements most post-2006 England performances has meant any individual accolades are met with a tepid response. I argue that had Rooney broken the record 15 years ago during our days of glorious failure, it may have been celebrated with far more vigour.
After the 1998 World Cup; during which he was sent off for kicking out at Diego Simeone, David Beckham managed to rebuild his reputation and is now remembered fondly, in part due to his heroics against Greece and quite possibly a better PR team than Rooney. However, while Beckham really only had one instance of petulant behaviour, Rooney has had several. Incidents against Portugal, Montenegro and the USA to name a few have impacted the way we as a nation see him. His association with agent Paul Stretford has also not done him any favours. Holding a football club to ransom over a contract dispute; especially when the issue is about extortionate wages, will never endear a player to the public.
His 12 year association to Manchester United is another factor that cannot be overlooked. As a nation we have well-documented tribal attitudes when it comes to club football and those dividing lines between club and country can often become blurred. As the most successful team over the past twenty years, United will always be considered one of the most divisive. Cheers are sometimes replaced by boos, as fans often fail to put club allegiances aside, something that Ashley Cole, John Terry and more recently Raheem Sterling can attest to.
There is also often a sense of a career left slightly unfulfilled. Despite the goals, assists and trophy haul since his move from Everton, Rooney’s early career billing him as a potential world-beater has never quite come to fruition. As an 18 year old, he was raw, angry and powerful. He was a ‘tour de force’ of anger, fuelled by an incessant desire to win. Coaches at Manchester United thought he had just as much talent as Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair shared centre stage at Old Trafford. We could debate the styles in which they both play the game: Ronaldo is far more individualistic, but the Real Madrid star has propelled himself into football’s rarefied atmosphere and he now shares a podium with the greats of world football, a spot many thought Rooney would also achieve earlier in his career. Instead the United striker may join the legions of English players that didn’t quite become the footballers we thought they might.
He is still England’s talisman, the captain and still the man to lead us into next summers Euro’s. Yes, Wayne Rooney did not become the player we all thought he would, but his record should be respected regardless. Perhaps after retirement and a few years out of the spotlight we may look upon his England career in a different light.
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