On April 2nd 2003 England played Turkey in a vital European Championship qualifying match. In the studio at half time Gary Lineker looked into the camera, he grinned and declared “I think we’ve found one”.
The ‘one’ in question was Wayne Rooney. It was Rooney’s first competitive international match and prior to the game there had been some debate over whether he should be included in the starting eleven. Nobody questioned that Rooney was richly talented. There was however some concerns over a 17-year-old being thrust into a white-hot atmosphere. The concerns were proved groundless as Rooney seized the moment to confirm his status as an England mainstay. From the moment in the first half when he actually started to ball juggle past opponents, a star was born.
He went on to star in England’s Euro 2004 campaign. In the group stage he scored four goals and was undoubtedly one of the tournament’s stars. In the second round we faced hosts Portugal and made a blistering start. We took the lead in the third minute through Michael Owen and in the opening exchanges looked comfortable. However, in the 27th minute Rooney had to leave the pitch injured and with him went England’s impetus. We eventually lost on penalties (surprise surprise) and, as ever, were left to reflect on it all with the usual ifs and buts thrown in. 2004 was our best chance of lifting a trophy since 1970 and it had fizzled away.
Of course, Rooney went on to have a long international career. The one sort of blemish on his England career though is after 2004 he played in four more tournaments and made little impression. So much was channelled through him. In the 2009/10 season he had been in the form of his life for Manchester United. He’d scored 34 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions. In the build up to the World Cup in South Africa he appeared in some adverts asserting his desire to ‘Write the Future’. Unfortunately in the first two games he was way off the pace.
The arrival of the England team bus at Capetown’s Green Point Stadium for the game against Algeria was televised. As our players left the bus to enter the stadium they had fear in their eyes. They didn’t look focused they looked frightened. Rooney looked as anxious as any of them. A hugely disappointing 0-0 draw saw him leaving the pitch berating the fans jeering the team. For all his ability and heading into the tournament in great form he looked lost and out of ideas. As did his teammates.
It’s fair to say Wayne Rooney’s patchy record in tournaments is why praise isn’t always automatic. At that level you are, rightly or wrongly, defined by performances on the biggest stages. One characterising aspect of Bobby Moore’s greatness is the bigger the game the better he played, and the calmer he looked. For England we can’t always say that for Rooney.
Overall though, it’d be harsh to belittle his England career. He earned 119 caps and is England’s all time top scorer with 53 goals…. in the process getting one of the monkeys of 66 of our collective back. We can genuinely wish him well for the rest of his career.
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