When Wayne Rooney burst onto the international scene as a teenage sensation, there was a sense that this day—a day on which he was named England captain—would always come.
The young Evertonian’s irrepressible ability pointed towards a lengthy and prosperous career on the international stage. So much so, that even though he showcased the odd volatile quip in his tender years, the general consensus was that one day, he’d be leading the team not just as the premier centre forward, but as captain too.
For the Manchester United man it’ll be an undeniably proud day. After all, for an English footballer, there are few things that top leading out the Three Lions at Wembley and various other iconic venues across the globe.
But while the inevitability of big things to come that accompanied Rooney’s initial enthralling emergence was an exciting one, the inevitability that’s greeted his obvious appointment as captain over the past few weeks has been a little underwhelming. For some, it’s downright concerning.
There’s no denying that there was a scarcity of genuine rivals to Rooney in the race for the honour. A smattering of senior figures announced their international retirement either side of a catastrophic World Cup, and with a host of fresh faces drafted into Hodgon’s most recent squad for England’s friendly with Norway, the man with 94 caps stands alone as the most high profile and experienced player left in the set-up.
The dearth of leadership in the current squad is actually quite staggering. Even in years that preceded the generation of the recently retired Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard—two men who have lead their respective teams to glory in myriad finals—England were never short of captaincy material in recent times.
You think back players like John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, men who won various honours as club captains and brought spades of influence to the national set up. Subsequently, there always seemed to be competition for the armband.
But taking a look at the squad now, it begs the question: where have all the English leaders gone? For a nation renowned for standing tall, leading by example and playing with pride—not that these attributes are unanimously critical in the make-up of a fine captain—the lack of potential options is worrying.
Perhaps it’s a by-product of the ill-fated Golden Generation’s big characters saturating the England set-up for so long?
Perhaps it’s down to the emergence of marvellous skippers from overseas like Patrick Vieira, Roy Keane, Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Kompany having massive success in the Premier League?
Perhaps it’s down to the fact mediocrity has become the norm for the Three Lions, not to mention the manner in which English players are wet-nursed by ever expanding entourages?
Nonetheless, whatever the reasons are, it’s not to say Rooney doesn’t deserve the opportunity to lead this team. Indeed, the merits of appointing the United man as the national skipper are plainly obvious.
England is in a stage of major transition ahead of the inception of their European Championships campaign, and subsequently nobody is quite sure what personnel Hodgson will choose to spearhead the charge towards France 2016. But even with a whirlwind of refreshing change blowing through Wembley, the importance of some stability shouldn’t be understated. And stability and reliability is exactly what Rooney will bring in his new role.
Some might point to his far from inspired showings at major tournaments as a negative trait, but even with those disappointments considered, the 28-year-old has still been England’s standout man for the overwhelming portion of his international career.
He’s netted 40 times in England colours to date, and while questions emerged during the 2014 World Cup about whether he should be a guaranteed starter amid the rise of some effervescent young talent, the captaincy should afford him the requisite minutes to break the Three Lions’ all-time goalscoring record, currently held by Sir Bobby Charlton with 49 strikes.
But as Rooney gets primed to lead England’s new generation, he’ll be tasked with inspiring a Manchester United renaissance too. Louis van Gaal saw fit to name the Red Devils’ No.10 as his skipper, and when you factor in Rooney’s appointment as England captain, it thrusts him to the forefront of two of the biggest soccer institutions on the planet. Both of which are under immense pressure to rekindle better days.
For Rooney—a player not versed in captaining a team over a sustained period—that represents an enormous challenge. And not only will he have to handle increased overall scrutiny and a flurry of added media commitments, he’ll be expected to perform to an unyieldingly impeccable level on the pitch too.
It’ll be intriguing to see just how the former Everton man copes with those extra demands. But he’s no longer that capricious 17-year-old boy that engrossed the footballing world, he’s a 28-year-old man that’s won some of the biggest honours in the game. He’s matured, settled and at this stage of his career, he should be relishing these massive opportunities that have been afforded to him.
If he does, then maybe his showings can be a catalyst for the emergence of England’s next generation of captains; the Three Lions could certainly do with a few more.