It’s extremely difficult to steer clear of the hyperbole that accompanies Wayne Rooney. After all, the current plight of the Manchester United man is a fascinating one and it certainly wouldn’t feel quite right if the English media didn’t impinge their hopes onto one man in the build-up to a big game. Unfortunately for Rooney, he’s just their latest obsession.
When it comes to the forward, the long-term narrative is that of a player who is indisputably talented, but has never quite reached the stratospheric heights that were expected of him when he dazzled as a teenager. A youngster lauded by many as one of the only world-class talents England have produced over the last decade, but now a man who has never delivered for the Three Lions on the biggest international stage.
Looking at things a little more short-term, he was shunted out to an unfamiliar role on the flank to accommodate a vibrant young talent in England’s World Cup opener against Italy. Rooney made one key contribution during the game, but aside from that, struggled. He left his left-back hopelessly exposed, failed to make any sustained impression in dangerous areas and missed a golden chance to restore parity in the game.
Rooney has always been a player that has split opinions, so naturally, questions about his role in the Three Lions set-up are have been longstanding and plentiful. But never in his 11-year international career has the man from Merseyside been under quite as much scrutiny.
It’s a topic that conjures debate and subsequent sensationalism, and that’s to be expected when it comes to a figure as high profile as Rooney. But there would be nothing sensationalised in saying England’s second match of 2014 World Cup will be the most important 90 minutes of the 28-year-old’s international career.
After the clamor that accompanied Rooney’s shift to the left-hand side for the Three Lions’ narrow defeat to Italy, Roy Hodgson is set to afford England’s number 10 the no. 10 role, moving the scintillating Raheem Sterling out of the position in which he was so impressive against the Azzurri.
It’s the position Rooney prefers and in the eyes of many, the position he performs best in. But perhaps most significantly against Uruguay, it’ll be the critical position on the pitch.
There’s no Andrea Pirlo to shackle and no Daniele De Rossi to provide protection to the back-four. Instead Rooney will be up against a very rigid and pretty average four-man Uruguay midfield. For a no.10, it’s an ideal scenario and one Rooney must take advantage of.
He must to work hard to find space between the lines. He must drive at a ponderous Uruguay back-four in a manner comparable to the Costa Rican forwards in their 3-1 triumph over La Celeste. And when he finds himself in those critical positions, he must make the right decisions that define the very best players.
By moving Sterling away from that central berth, Hodgson has placed an enormous amount of trust in the Manchester United man. If England lose to Uruguay and exit this World Cup at the group stage, you can only imagine the stick that will come the England boss’ way. He’ll be branded as a manager who was scared to pursue with the thrilling, in-form teenager where he’s most effective and a boss who didn’t have the bottle to drop a long ineffective Rooney.
So the onus is on Rooney to deliver for Hodgson, for his nation and for himself. At 28 years old, Rooney doesn’t have many major tournaments left in him. Plus, England have a myriad of players fighting for that coveted spot in the team, with Sterling, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana all likely to stake a major claim to play in the no. 10 role as the Three Lions look towards to European Championships in 2016.
In a World Cup where a host of big names have stepped up for their respective nations, those who follow the Three Lions will be expecting the same from their troubled talisman. And if he can perform, if he can discover his mercurial edge, who knows what might happen?
Ever since he burst onto the scene at Everton right up until his most recent season at Old Trafford, Rooney’s been a player that thrives off momentum. His career is littered with a host of games in which he’ll go goalless, before he explodes into life with a flurry of strikes over a sustained period.
If he can put in a match-winning performance against Uruguay, maybe even notch a goal or two, England could suddenly have a rampant Rooney on their hands. That would be a major positive as they strive to make it to the knockout stages.
Often talismanic, occasionally villainous, Rooney’s England career has oscillated from extreme to extreme more regularly than any Three Lions man in recent memory. After his performance against Uruguay — whether majestic or anonymous — expect another reaction on a typically massive scale and a forensic analysis that will be conducted through the prism of England’s result.
A scapegoat or a hero. What’s it going to be?