With the announcement of Steven Gerrard’s international retirement, after 38 games as captain and 114 appearances, attention was quickly turned to one question. Who will wear the captain’s armband next for the Three Lions?
Frankly, England isn’t littered with options. Perhaps that is part of the reason the English performed so poorly in Brazil. Ex-England captain Bryan Robson has acknowledged this, saying: “As a captain I don’t think we have a stand out candidate”.
Many, including Gerrard, have suggested Wayne Rooney. The United forward has the most caps in the current squad, sitting at 95 appearances, and looks set to break Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record, needing just 9 goals to reach that target. His talent is undoubtedly going to keep him in the side, despite some calls for him to be dropped in Brazil – and this consistency is important to have when giving someone the armband.
However, the captaincy isn’t just about giving the armband to your best or most high profile player. When Rooney was playing in a flat and disappointing Manchester United side under David Moyes, he was one of the few players on the pitch who seemed to try to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Even when not performing well, his work rate goes unquestioned.
Does this make him captain material? I don’t think so.
And I’m not going to evidence his lifestyle choices, or rumors in the tabloids. John Terry has been the subject of numerous attacks on his personality, yet the command he has in the dressing room is there for all to witness. Ryan Giggs is another shining example of this. As his personal life comes into question, team mates and friends are the ones to rally around you, not create a fissure in the dressing room.
What does hurt is Rooney’s antics surrounding contract disputes. Twice he has held Manchester United to ransom. Stories surface of Rooney moving to a major Premier League rival, and twice the result has been a huge bump in pay for Rooney. One of the world’s finest and most marketable talents certainly warrants the one of the best wages in the world – but the manner he went about it was well below the belt. Those are the kind of actions that will cause rifts in a dressing room.
His outburst in 2010, when he shouted “It’s nice to hear your own fans booing you” to the world’s television screens after a disappointing 0-0 draw to Algeria is more of the same. Though I understand it was an action in the heat of the moment, that doesn’t mean the infamous English press would take it the same way. Rooney is an easy scapegoat; often blamed for not winning games on his own and often the center of antics on and off the pitch that question his attitude. Even if his attitude improves, the perceptions of him won’t. As a result, the fans, the media and the culture surrounding the English national team could quickly become toxic – all as a result of extra attention on the man.
Rooney does not need flattering or appeasing. He does not need to be handed an armband as a token of his quality, or his work rate. Rooney is at his best when he is focused on playing. When the spotlight at United was on Ronaldo, Rooney played some of his best soccer. When Van Niistelrooy was at the club to poach not just the goals, but the glory, Rooney blossomed in his development. And the entrance of Robin Van Persie has allowed this trend to continue.
Rooney off the pitch is an extrovert. He constantly attracts attention, and in his younger years he purposefully brought this upon himself. Rooney on the pitch, however, is an introvert. When he gets his head down and plays, he becomes one of the best in the world. And when he is one of the best in the world, leading comes more naturally – he instinctually becomes in sync with those around him. However, you divert his attention from his game, you give him responsibility outside of his comfort zone, and his performance decreases.
Rooney isn’t the right choice for England captain, and it’s not because of what the back pages of the newspapers will print about him. But rather, to get the best out of him as a player, you don’t need to present him with a gift. His experience at the top level is matched by Joe Hart and Gary Cahill. His ‘bite’ and win at all costs nature is matched by Jack Wilshere. What sets Rooney apart is his talent, and this is why so many think he should get the captaincy. However, giving him the armband could lead to a drop in his talent, the one virtue that sets him apart from his national team mates.
You can follow Jordan Willis on Twitter @JMWillis01