Wayne Rooney should never play for England again
As Eric Dier powered home an injury-time header to give England a hugely unlikely and enjoyable victory over Germany on Saturday evening, who was the first person you thought of? Where did your mind wander as this new raw, exhilarating, and talented generation of English footballers celebrated on the pitch of Berlin’s Olympiastadion? If you were anything like me you were thinking about Wayne Rooney and whether he ought to be anywhere near the squad for Euro 2016.
Buzzing. Somehow you doubt it. Harry Kane and Deli Alli, playing with the freedom, intelligence and courage of talent given a break, are making Rooney look like a red telephone box in a smartphone world. I don’t want Wayne Rooney to play for England again and neither does any England fan I know. Nobody wants to see Rooney squatting on top of this pyramid of energetic new talent, a cantankerous throwback, a living, sweating reminder of just how shite England have been in every major tournament since Euro 2004.
This is Wayne Rooney at 30, captain of England, captain of Manchester United but very much in the autumn of his career, lacking the energy to rage against the dying of his talent’s light. Every time you watch him this season, scuttling about, scoring the occasional tap in, the word that comes to mind is the same: Wayne Rooney looks tired. And that languor is fatal for a player like Rooney, whose style was always boat-chested, bristlingly kinetic, frighteningly aggressive.
Don’t let anyone tell you Rooney was never any good. Watch a reel of his best goals and marvel at what they all share: a desperate urgency, a screaming desire to win. It’s like if he doesn’t score he’ll be forced back to Croxteth and have all his money taken away. Rooney was a doughty pugilist, a scummy bulldog, the kid who’d score a hat-trick at break and then get done for smoking at lunch. What the television cameras never quite captured was how the imperial Rooney of 2008 to 2012 would control football matches. He’d never shut up, never leave referees alone, rampaging around the pitch angrier than a Brietbart comments section. But what made him the English footballer of his generation – and what he has lost completely – were the divine moments of finesse and imagination (example) that broadened his game, and made him more than just an infuriated streetfighter.
None of those great goals has been in England shirt. None of those spectacular moments has been in England shirt. Yes, he’s the all-time top goal scorer – an achievement built largely on goals your mum would have scored against Andorra. The feeling pervades that such a record is a meaningless token, signifying nothing, meaning very little – even to Rooney – unless he takes England all the way to the final of a tournament, as Bobby Charlton did. As it stands Rooney’s tournament record stands at a disastrous six goals in six major championships.
You have to ask the question, should Rooney be trusted, at this late stage, to lead England into a tournament? With the emergence of Kane, Ali and Vardy this season and with Sturridge and Welbeck in the mix, it’s hard to argue that Rooney should be on the bench, let alone start against Russia on June 11th.
Very few England fans would be upset if he didn’t make the squad, regardless of all those tap-ins in qualifying. But that’s the thing with Roy Hodgson, you know that behind his owlish visage there’s a brain, a sick, sick brain that would rather watch Wayne Rooney and James Milner swim lengths than see Deli Ali and Ross Barkley play water polo in the pool across the road.