So, Wayne Rooney will be back in an England shirt for ‘The Wayne Rooney Foundation International’, in what is definitely not a testimonial. The FA want to honour and acknowledge their record scorer and former captain by giving him his 120th cap in the ‘fixture’ against the USA at Wembley on 15th November.
But what is the point in this peculiar approach? Raising money for disadvantaged children is a worthy charitable cause, but Rooney doesn’t need to play. The 33-year-old hasn’t featured for the Three Lions for two years, announcing his international retirement in August 2017. Despite a respectable twelve goal return in Major League Soccer with DC United this season, Rooney would still be nowhere near consideration for selection. Peter Shilton, a veteran of 125 England appearances, says caps should only be given “on merit”. Still, those backing the idea say he is deserving of a gesture that the likes of Gary Lineker, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard didn’t have bestowed upon them.
This is not a meaningless fixture either, as some leading correspondents have suggested. England face Croatia in the UEFA Nations League just three days later. Gareth Southgate is a big believer in the Nations League and these preparatory fixtures are integral to his plans. On the back of reaching the World Cup Semi-Finals for the first time since 1990, we’ve just beaten Spain. So why are we now going out of our way to temporarily reintegrate a player who failed to match these efforts in no less than six major international finals over twelve years? As impressive as a 53-goal haul in internationals is, the summary of Rooney’s record at those ‘big tournaments’ paints a more realistic picture…
After lighting up Euro 2004 at 18 years of age, Rooney was sent off in the 2006 World Cup Quarter-Finals as the Three Lions crashed out. Four years later he insulted home fans on television after being knocked out in South Africa. He tried his best to miss Euro 2012 by getting sent off for brainlessly kicking out at a Montenegro player in the final qualifier, before celebrating the reprieve he was given by holidaying in Vegas on the eve of the tournament. In 2014 he helped England exit the World Cup after just two matches. Euro 2016 ended with Rooney frozen in midfield as England succumbed to Iceland. After all of these indiscretions, you’d wonder why our joint most dismissed player (with Beckham) is being rewarded with another send-off.
You can’t imagine Southgate is too impressed with having to accommodate Rooney either. After having the courage to axe him initially, he paved the way for new players. Now he has to face the irony of welcoming Rooney into the fresh wave of optimism that he and his team have created. It seems the FA have created a bit of a bizarre situation for Southgate, a former player and his ‘new’ old teammates. Frankly, as a relic of a failing bygone era, Rooney has no place as a player in this setup.
Southgate’s Lions broke down a major national barrier in defeating Colombia on penalties in the World Cup round of 16 this summer. Rooney’s last contribution to his successful season with DC United was missing a penalty in a shootout as they were knocked out of the first round of the MLS playoffs. The contrast is there for all to see. Southgate will no doubt limit the game time that Rooney gets, so hopefully minutes for players he wants to use in the future won’t be too heavily impacted.
Germany gave something approaching a similar send-off to Lukas Podolski in March 2017, funnily enough against England, but that was less than a year after he last featured for his country. Add in that Podolski had actually won something with his country – the World Cup. Commendable though his stats may be, Rooney didn’t win anything with England. As eccentric Manchester United fan Andy Tate said in 2014, Rooney “tried and he tried and what do you give”. Mind you, Tate is probably not far off a call-up to one of these games himself.
Wayne Rooney hat-trick next Thursday, anyone?