Four years ago, Wayne Rooney burst onto the world stage by starring for England in the 2004 European Championships. Many people in England, maybe optimistically, think that we would have gone on to win that tournament if Rooney hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been injured in the penalty shoot-out defeat to Portugal.
At that time, I was convinced that Rooney was going to become one of the best players in the world. I was certain that he was going to be EnglandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best player for a very long time indeed. Watching Euro 2008 I have been wondering whether he would have stood out in this tournament if he had been there and whether he has come anywhere near the hype and hope that surrounded him four years ago.
We all know that Rooney came to fame by becoming the youngest ever Premier League scorer back in 2002 a few days short of his seventeenth birthday. He then left Everton for Manchester United whilst still only eighteen for a fee that was believed to reach almost thirty million pounds, making him the most expensive ever teenager.
At United he has established himself as a first team regular and won the Carling Cup, the Premier League twice and the Champions League. As recently as 2005 he was named as the FIFPro World young player of the year.
He has played forty-three times for England and is still only twenty-two years old. All in all, it is a spectacular record for one so young. What is it then that makes me think he has fallen behind others in the world and has never quite hit the heights that all in England hoped he would?
Well, his scoring record is good without being spectacular. For England he has managed fourteen goals in those forty-three appearances. For Everton he scored seventeen in seventy-seven starts and for United he has netted seventy-seven times in one hundred and eighty nine games. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one hundred and eight goals in three hundred and nine games, just over one goal every three games. A very acceptable return, but not a great one.
We all also know about RooneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s temperament problems. He has been lambasted by the press for his regular foul mouthed loutish abuse of referees, rightly so, and he still clearly sees red when things are going against him. When he mis-contols the ball or gets tackled and chases after the opposition player who has taken it off him, the whole ground closes their eyes and holds their breath waiting for the uncontrolled studs up lunge that is likely to follow.
Despite that, he is one of the few English players who can dominate a match and create something out of nothing. He has fabulous vision, great movement, an exceptional eye for a pass and a sweet strike. He really is a very good player. I just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he has yet become a great.
The Euros have made me look at the top nations and ask whether they would swap what they have for Wayne Rooney. TonightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finalists for example. Would Rooney be selected ahead of David Villa or Fernando Torres, or Miroslav Klose or Lucas Podolski?
Arshavin, Van Nistelrooy, Nihat, Toni and Benzema would all fancy their chances of keeping their place in the side if Rooney came from their country. I think Wayne would get a run out for Portugal or Croatia (if Eduardo was unfit) but I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think of too many other top nations for whom he would be an automatic choice.
Even at Manchester United, of the forward players available to them last season was he more or as important as Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez?
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want this article to be seen as a criticism of Wayne Rooney as I repeat again that I think he is a very fine player. What I am saying, sadly, is that this debate has made me realise just how far English football has fallen. Our bright star, one of our only truly world class players is actually not the envy of too many others.
A look back over the years at Ã¢â‚¬ËœgreatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ English forward players produces names like Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham, Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley. These players never actually won anything with England but they were envied by other countries. At least that gave us some comfort in our constant disappointment.
The current tournament has given absolutely no comfort to this England supporter as I think it has confirmed the gap between England and the best of Europe is wider than it has been for many, many years, if not ever.
Maybe Wayne Rooney will be the one scoring forty-two goals next season and leading us to the next world cup with genuine hopes and dreams of success. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll not hold my breath.
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