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Wayne Rooney Will Be Revered as an English Great, But He Should Have Been So Much More


When Wayne Rooney earns his 100th cap for England against Slovenia in the Three Lions’ upcoming European Championships qualifier on Saturday (live at Noon ET on ESPN Deportes and in the US), it will be another wonderful achievement for the Croxteth-born forward in what’s been a magnificently decorated career.

During his time on the international scene, Rooney has never shirked responsibility when playing for his country, and although there have been some tumultuous spells along the way, in the main he’s represented the England team with distinction. As such, he’s a worthy centurion.

It’s the latest accolade accrued by United man, and the honors he’s picked up reads like an index of the game’s most coveted awards.

Rooney’s won the Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and multiple Premier League titles. He’s scored in finals for his club, shone at a major championships for England in 2004 and is now the captain of both Manchester United and the Three Lions. He’ll almost certainly go on to break goalscoring records for both of those teams too, which is enough to cement his status as an undeniable great for both club and country.

But there’s an unshakeable sense that the former Everton man should have been so much more.

“What more could an English player achieve,” you might ask? He is the leader of two of soccer’s most iconic institutions after all, and will most probably finish his career as the most prolific player in the history of both of them. But Rooney hasn’t fulfilled the stratospheric potential he showcased in the infancy of his career.

When he burst onto the scene at Everton as a boisterous 16-year-old, Rooney had absolutely everything. Not only did he possess an intelligence and appreciation of the game that far surpassed his tender years, but he boasted a physicality to compliment those enviable qualities. His pace, power, agility and work-rate were all grand facets of his make-up; he had all the requisite attributes to become one of the best the game has ever seen.

And while it’d be misguided to suggest Rooney is a footballer that has underachieved—he has sampled some amazing success at United—individually, there’s a sense of what might of been when it comes to the England skipper.

It’s been years and years since we were witness to Rooney picking the ball up on the half turn and driving at defences like he did in the early stages of his career. Gone is the dynamism on the ball that used to have defenders back-pedalling. Gone is the blistering pace that added a frightening facet to his arsenal.

At Everton and indeed, with England in the early stages of his career, Rooney was a player that was unshackled.

Deployed behind the striker he was able to roam about the pitch, conjuring up pockets of space and driving forward with the ball; not too dissimilar to current Everton midfielder Ross Barkley. But upon moving to Old Trafford, there was an almost immediate indication that Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to add some discipline to his game.

It’s something Rooney bought into, and in many respects, it was that willingness that hampered him. So often under the tutelage of the legendary United boss, he was shunted to a wide berth, tasked with putting in the draining yards on the flank to nullify rampaging full-backs and tricky wingers. He became a victim of his own versatility.

And while he usually showcased application on the pitch, questions have always persisted regarding Rooney’s lifestyle away from soccer. Pictures of him indulging in cigarettes and alcohol during pre-season does not render him a bad player or a poor role model, but when compared to the game’s very best—especially Cristiano Ronaldo, who was deemed less of a prospect than Rooney in their early years at United—you have to wonder could he have looked after himself a little better.

Rooney has enjoyed seasons in which he netted 26 and 27 Premier League goals. But as the years have ticked by, the effervescent qualities that made him such an enthralling prospect have slowly seeped away. He developed into a wonderful scorer and creator of goals, but that intangible something extra, the attributes that would should have made him an all-time great, have been sapped from his game. As Daniel Harris wonderfully put it earlier in the week, he “was a fantasy player, now a fantasy league player”.

At the age of 29, it’s wholly unlikely he’ll ever rediscover that edge-of-your-seat trait again, but like very good players do—a category in which Rooney indisputably belongs in—the United man must adapt. But even now there are questions about his best role. Is he a No. 9? Is he a No. 10? Can he still do a job in a wide area, a position that Roy Hodgson played him in during the World Cup?

That remains to be seen and regardless, eventually there will come a time when Rooney is not good enough to be guaranteed a starting berth for United and England. Indeed, some think that day should have already come.

But when it does, Rooney will be rightly revered as a iconic figure, one of the most decorated in the history of the English game. But individually, such was his talent and such was his stunning ability, he should have been taking his place amongst the pantheon of soccer’s all-time greats.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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