On Wayne Rooney and ‘missed opportunities’ for England

Wayne Rooney retired from international football last week.

Lost amongst the clang and clatter of Neymar-gate, the Hudson River Derby, and UEFA officials cajoling themselves for plucking plastic balls out of a bowl was a rather large and important moment: Wayne Rooney would no longer be suiting up for the England National Team.

The last of a generation of footballers who had the promise of lifting the World Cup trophy and bringing England back to their glory days is now gone.

Yet, there was nary a word spoken about it.

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There seems to be a couple of reasons for this.

First, he is still actually playing football for Everton. Those that missed watching Rooney, as a player, can still watch him every weekend lacing up his boots for the Toffees.

Had he retired from both international and club football at the same time perhaps the reaction might have been a bit more pronounced.

Obviously one’s interests change from country to club but for those of who want to see the occasional cracking goal or one of our rivals taken down it is still nice to see one of the best strikers of generation plying their craft.

We can talk later if he chooses at the age of 35 to come play in North America or Asia.

Second, there were the expectations placed on Rooney and his generation of English footballers. This was supposed to be the generation that brought England back to the forefront of international football.

The Premier League, top to bottom, was arguably the most competitive league in the world and it seemed to only make sense that the impressive numbers that he was putting up for club would translate to country.

They did but not to the satisfaction of all. On the surface his numbers look really good. His 53 goals make him the country’s all-time leader in goals scored and is certainly an impressive feat.

However, the one solitary goal against France in a friendly in 2015 and the zero goals against the likes of Germany, Italy, and Spain give the impression that his scoring haul is a little skewed.

Not all of his goals came against the likes of Andorra, San Marino, and Kazakhstan-he did score twelve goals against  Croatia (4), Denmark (2), Poland (2), and Switzerland (4).

But English football tends to view only performances against the bigger sides in Europe and the world, casting aside anything else as being secondary in importance. So those individual feats against quality sides aren’t measured on the same scale as the lack of results against more renowned opponents.

This narrative also seems to apply to international tournaments. Rooney’s efforts in the 2004 European Championship, from an outsider’s perspective, seemed to make him a hero in England.

His four goals and team of the tournament honours put him on a pedestal in England and furthered an older narrative that England were on the cusp of winning titles.

But England have sputtered in international football since then with their crowning achievements being quarter-final appearances in the 2006 World Cup and 2012 European Championships.

Rooney’s form in major competitions was also a bit of mixed bag – he provided the equalizer for England to keep their World Cup hopes alive in 2014 against Uruguay and had goals in both the 2012 (against Ukraine) and 2016 Euros (against Iceland).

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The 2012 goal aside they weren’t enough though and that seems to further fuel the notion that Rooney isn’t all he was cracked up to be. In 2014, Uruguay would go on to score a second to eliminate England from Brazil.

In 2016, England would shockingly lose to Iceland setting off another fury and firestorm in England that comes after every tournament.

Even 2012 was an odd tournament with Rooney missing the first two matches due to suspension (where England arguably looked like a better side) and losing out in the Quarters on penalties to Italy.

While there were certainly some difficult moments during the Rooney era, there were also many worth celebrating. So why aren’t we celebrating his international career?

It would seem that the bad memories or perceived moments that should have happened stand out far more than the positive ones.

For every match-winner like the one in the Ukraine there is the belief that he should have delivered England a title.

Nevermind that the English Football Association and their cavalcade of clown managers also failed and have failed many, many players English players and supporters for generations.

You don’t see Germany, France, or Spain throwing star players under the bus unless it is absolutely necessary (France 2010 comes to mind as an outlier. Italy is an entirely different beast).

For some, since Rooney was the captain for so many years, it was his responsibility to lift the England national team back to the promise land.

That he is a striker and he is supposed to score goals makes this situation much more complicated.

The expectation for strikers is that they are to score the goals, get the highlight reel moments, and provide the titles. Goalless performances can be perceived as failures and any miss in a big moment is the end of the world.

Rooney isn’t the first striker to be defined by what he didn’t do in a major international competition.

Those of us of a certain age remember the 1994 World Cup Final and Roberto Baggio skying his penalty kick opportunity into the heavens.

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U.S. fans have their own goat striker (we are going lowercase here to separate them from the Greatest Of All Time moniker) in the form of Chris Wondolowski whose ‘golden opportunity’ miss at the 2014 World Cup cost the United States a quarter-final appearance.

On paper, Wondolowski’s career should be celebrated. He built a career from a Division II college, worked his butt off to earn minutes in Major League Soccer and is the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer.

For some though all of those goals and his career are meaningless. He had a chance for a game-winning goal and he blew it.

Can Rooney’s legacy for England be repaired? In time many of these failures will be washed away.

Time does heal all wounds and supporters do seem to see the bigger picture.

The English FA, for all of their warts, do seem to understand that throwing ex-players under the bus is not always the best policy especially since so many of them come back into the football world as managers or pundits.

But the Rooney era of English football seems to be stuck in the narrative of what it could have been, rather than what it provided.

The sooner English football can correct this the closer it will actually be in building a winning program and identity.

The Author

Sean Maslin

BPF Columnist, Washington Spirit/D.C. United beat writer and general editor-Prost Amerika, Columnist-Playing for 90. Radio MLS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-mls/id979377624?mt=2

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