Wayne Rooney will yet again go to the World Cup as England’s main hope, but not only is this his last real chance to prove he is world class, he must seize the opportunity to score his first goal in the tournament. The Manchester United forward has experienced mixed fortunes playing for the national side. He exploded onto the international scene at Euro 2004 as an 18-year-old, scoring four goals for England in the tournament before he before limping off against hosts Portugal in the quarter-final with what was later diagnosed as a cracked fifth metatarsal.
Since then he has managed to creep up to 38 international goals, 11 behind Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49, but the general feeling is Rooney has not grown into the player the world thought he would become. One problem for Rooney is the fact he is he started out as a striker. That means in the lexicon of football vocabulary, Rooney should score a lot of goals. He does, with some aplomb, but his style play, which sees him race up and down the pitch to win the ball back did him no favors. No playing more of a roving role behind the front one or two for club and country, he does even more by trying to link midfield and attack, drifting out to the wing, tracking back to shake-off his marker. All this makes Rooney’s game more difficult to play.
A succession of England managers after Sir Bobby Robson and perhaps Terry Venables have shied away from playing flair players. Instead they have opted for industry and players who are prepared to run for 90 minutes. Rooney straddles the two camps and so England and United have preferred to use him as a deep-lying attacker who does the dirty work while he is expected to chip in with a lot of goals. No wonder he was able to negotiate a £300,000-a-week salary. If he is to seize this chance to show just how good he is, Rooney must do it while sacrificing himself for the team.
Nobody says he is in the same class as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and there is no shame in that – not many are – but the hype surrounding Rooney when he emerged as a raw, street footballer akin to what you would see in the favelas in Brazil, meant his country and the world expected.
Now he goes to Brazil 2014 with the added weight of not having scored in the tournament. Of course, there is a possibility Rooney may play in Russia 2018, if England qualify, but the England manager will be looking to blood younger players and rely on the old guard so much. Rooney’s stocky build is not conducive to sprinting across the pitch and so he will have to modify his game considerably. It is rare for a player to improve at the age of 32.
To seize the chance of winning recognition on the world stage is the ambition of every player and Rooney is no different. The problem for him is he will be well into his 30s come the next World Cup and so he must make this chance count.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd