As England struggled to break down Estonia’s defense on Sunday, Wayne Rooney was once again a central figure for all the good and bad moments.
Like many other games with England, Rooney struggled in the final third. He missed chances, wasted crosses, showed a poor first touch and lacked control in crucial moments. Yet, just when everyone was ready to criticize him for a lackluster performance, he curled in a great free kick that snuck past the Estonian keeper and gave England three valuable points.
One could call it business as usual in regards to Rooney. He has struggled to score in open play but his dead ball skills proved to be the difference. In what was another unmemorable performance for England, Rooney once again provided the key moment of class that sets him apart from anyone else.
Jack Wilshere was unlucky to not have at least one assist after unlocking the Estonian defense on multiple occasions (that’s something he could blame Rooney for). Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were valuable substitutions that brought pace and attacking verve in the final minutes. Yet, despite England having the majority of the possession and chances against an inferior Estonian squad, it was an unconvincing team performance.
While Rooney deserves criticism for not putting away the game at the end after missing a series of chances, he should be lauded for providing the difference between a frustrating draw and a serviceable victory. Rooney can be frustrating to watch, but he can quickly undo everything he messes up with a moment of brilliance which serves as a reminder for why he must start.
With Steven Gerrard gone, Rooney is England’s best dead ball specialist alongside Leighton Baines. Rooney’s goal against Estonia was only the second he’s ever had from a free kick playing for England. Yet, along with his consistent ability to convert penalties, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rooney become England’s primary free kick taker.
Along with dead ball skill, Rooney plays well outside the final third. His work rate is top notch as he covers plenty of ground. It’s true that he’s not clinical with his chances but Rooney is great at many aspects of the game including shooting, getting assists, tracking back on defense, holding onto the ball, and building up attacks. Yet, because he’s not a world class player in the final third, he is a source of pessimism and skepticism.
The Guardian’s Jamie Jackson showed a cynical outlook that many journalists and fans share towards Rooney when tweeting “Rooney proves again he’s a class above…” Other fans and journalists were quick to point out that as he had against San Marino, he should have had multiple goals and already be closer to breaking Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record for England at 49 goals.
In life, one can look at things with the glass half full vs. half empty. Negative perceptions of Rooney seem to be more common (especially on Twitter) as they represent the notion that Rooney has failed to meet the lofty expectations most had for him years ago. In the end, Rooney will always be a failure to those who wanted him to the next Maradona or the “white Pele”.
While Rooney does disappoint in the final third, I find it hard to overly criticize someone for not burying every chance he gets or failing to score a hat-trick every time England plays an inferior team. It was fitting it that a prolific goal-scorer, Thierry Henry, rightfully pointed out during the World Cup that as frustrating as Rooney can be in terms of missing his chances, bashing him for not being a world class finisher like Suarez, Messi, or Ronaldo does no good.
Rooney’s overall statistics for club and country prove that he’s a great player even if he’s not on the same level as those who are considered the best in the world. While failing to constantly amaze as often as others, he has shown the ability to provide inspirational moments. While only scoring once in eleven World Cup matches is a disappointing statistic, 33 of his 43 goals have been scored in competitive matches. It’s unfortunate that Rooney has failed to score often during some of the most crucial matches but it shouldn’t define his legacy.
Detractors spend their time speculating on why Rooney never exceeded their lofty expectations. Because he has lost some of the pace he showed at a younger age, many believe that England would play more quickly without him. Yet, based off Roy Hodgson’s conservative approach and the quality of the roster, England would not play any better without Rooney. Due to Rooney’s overall prowess and longevity, his place in the starting eleven should be warranted. Ultimately, many take what Rooney brings for granted.
As ESPN’s John Brewin put it, “Rooney often scores when playing badly. Not a bad knack to have, is it?”
Overall, there are times where Rooney hasn’t always been at his best and looked out of place. However, he consistently plays well more often and always has the potential to make a key contribution. He should also be celebrated as an England legend once he’s long gone from football.
In regards to the scoring record and Rooney’s legacy, The Mirror’s John Cross put everything in perspective by stating, “Rooney will break this record and go down as an all time England great. It’s an individual record and the holder deserves legendary status.”
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