Games played: 77.
Goals scored: 17.
Assists: 8. (Debut at 16)
Games played: 480.
Goals scored: 230.
Games played: 103.
Goals scored: 48.
x 5 Premier League winners’ medals
x 1 Champions League winners’ medal
x 2 League Cup winners’ medals
x 1 FIFA Club World Cup winners’ medal
Wayne Rooney’s legacy is one of the most frequently debated topics in football. To some, he is overrated, yet he remains underrated by many. The truth lies somewhere in between. Since he burst on the scene as a stocky 16 year old, Rooney’s every touch has been scrutinized to a degree never seen before. Looking at his stats/honours, his legacy as a great in our beautiful game should not be in doubt but the fact he never quite met the huge expectations of an entire nation has created the illusion of unfulfilled potential.
“Rooney!!!” screamed Martin Tyler, after his thunderbolt past David Seaman.
“Remember the name, ladies and gentlemen!” A star was born.
The English are fond of jumping the gun when it comes to their young talents but the euphoria here was out of this world. They had found their messiah; the boy who would win them their first World Cup since ‘66. He was affectionately called ‘Wazza’, after tragic hero Paul Gascoigne who was known as ‘Gazza’ and he was also labeled ‘white Pele’. Talk about pressure! His exceptional performances as an 18 year old at Euro 2004 where he scored 4 goals (his only great tournament) did little to dampen the hype. After much speculation, he eventually joined Manchester United, which further increased his burgeoning profile. The significance of being the ‘main man’ can’t be underplayed especially when we look at his age at the time and the size of the institutions he was representing. How could anyone possibly live up to those expectations? 11 years on, it’s fair to say he did. He is the captain of both club and country and is on the verge of breaking both goal-scoring records.
Why then is he still questioned?
Cristiano’s ascension to superstardom and his current status as one of the greatest of all time reflect badly on his former teammate. Rooney joined United a year later than Ronaldo and was seen as the greater talent. The perfect blend of technique and physique, he was seen as the catalyst to take a struggling United side back to the top. Now the difference between the two stars born in ‘85 is night and day and one can’t help but look at the diverging trajectories their careers have taken. ‘I will become the best in the world’ was Ronaldo’s mantra upon arrival to the Reds and he did everything possible to achieve it. He worked tirelessly on his physical conditioning and his decision-making, leading to 3 Balon D’or awards and countless personal and team honours. Many would fall short in comparison to CR7 but it leaves a lingering feeling that maybe Rooney would have been in the top echelons of the game if he had a similar attitude and mentality. This however shouldn’t take away from his legacy, as we would have no modern day greats if Ronaldo and Messi alone were used as the yardstick.
In England, especially among the press, mavericks and ‘Roy of the rover’ type players are loved. This is the reason players lacking personal and tactical discipline like Gazza and Matthew Le Tissier are lauded and why Gerrard, rather than Lampard, is the nation’s darling. Rooney was that player – explosive, skillful and one who ultimately tried to do too much. Sir Alex turned him into a more mechanical player, one who uses his energy more wisely and a player who is ultra efficient. It made him a better player and the numbers back that up but ultimately made him less easy on the eye. He constantly did a job for the team, paying for his versatility on many occasions and it is fair to see why people felt he lost his spark. Those lung bursting runs and trademark strikes became few and far between; the boy the nation fell in love with seemed to be lost forever. Objectively, his overall game improved from those early days and he became the ultimate big game player, just ask Arsenal fans. The highest scorer in the history of the Manchester derby, key goals against Chelsea at the Bridge and he is the highest English goal-scorer in Champions League history. Wayne has done it all at club level and has been an integral component of the team.
But something is missing…
This is where the debate holds strongest because based on his club career; Rooney’s greatness should never be questioned. It’s the old club v country debate again. Shouldn’t great players single handedly win games for their country? For numerous reasons ranging from serious injury prior to the tournament, to fatigue after a grueling season, Rooney has rarely achieved this in tournament football. This isn’t an excuse as he has been particularly awful in certain tournaments (World Cup 2010 & Euro 2012) and played below the base level of a supposed top class footballer. However, we live in an era of nostalgia, where we yearn for the days when Ronaldo de Lima and Zidane single handedly led their teams to glory. In this era, the players expected to do this haven’t succeeded. The ‘collective’ has been at the forefront of the recent international successes of the Spanish and German national teams, with their Barcelona and Bayern cores shining through. The English national team has often been disjointed, with managers not being able to get the best out of superstars (Gerrard and Lampard) and now there is a distinct lack of quality in the side. On his way to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record for England, Rooney will look at his tournament record with regret, but overall he has arguably been as successful for England as anyone, since Bobby Moore and the other heroes of ’66.
At 29 years old and with almost 700 games under his belt, Wazza is finally losing his world-class status and is no longer the force he once was. His pace and touch are in decline but that grit and determination we’re accustomed to lives on. He is a player that will not be fully appreciated till he hangs up his boots and despite the criticism, the England and Manchester United captain is where he is meant to be.