Week 201 (19 - 25 August)
After a record-breaking international career, once in a generation talent Wayne Rooney has decided to call time on his England days.
The former England and Manchester United captain retires from international football as the country’s all-time top goal scorer and most capped outfield player. Rooney, who scored 53 goals in 119 appearances for England, announced his retirement on Tuesday, leading to widespread tributes from former players, media, and fans, who used his retirement as an opportunity to reflect on his incredible career.
Rooney broke onto the scene in 2002 as a fresh-faced 16-year old, scoring a stunning winner for Everton against a seemingly unbeatable Arsenal side. He was immediately dubbed the “next big thing” in English football, drawing the attention of Europe’s most elite clubs. Time and time again we witness the English media pile pressure on the country’s brightest young talent, yet time and time again we see them fail to live up to expectations. But Rooney was different. He had it all – the talent, the work ethic and most importantly the mind-set. It quickly became apparent that England had found a genuinely special talent, who in 15 years’ time, would leave a lasting legacy on the nation’s favourite game.
Reflecting on his time in an England shirt, Rooney said:
“Playing for England has always been special to me. Every time I was selected as a player or captain was a real privilege and I thank everyone who helped me. But I believe now is the time to bow out.”
A key part of Rooney’s success is his genuine love for football, which in today’s era of hundred-million pound transfers, is all too often a forgotten feature of the game. In his statement, Rooney focused on the future of the national side – players he has inspired – and how he would be following the team’s journey as if he was still part of it:
“I will always remain a passionate England fan... Hopefully the exciting players Gareth (Southgate) is bringing through can take that ambition further and I hope everyone will get behind the team. One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity.”
His humility in brushing over his own incredible career is typical of a player who all young players hoping to play for England should look up to.
It was at UEFA Euro 2004 where Rooney demonstrated that he was on course to be a world-class player. Prior to the tournament, Rooney had already become England’s youngest-ever player and goal scorer, and started the tournament with enormous expectation on his shoulders. However, showing immense maturity for an 18 year old, he led England to a quarter-final showdown against Portugal. Yet, in a match that would haunt Rooney and England in the years to come, he suffered a tournament-ending injury and had to watch from the side-lines as England crashed out on penalties. In spite of this, Rooney’s magical performances up to that point saw him named in UEFA's Team of the Tournament.
Rooney’s unique talent quickly made him the top target for Europe’s top clubs, with Manchester United winning the race to sign him in 2004. His club and international career for the next decade saw him develop into one of the most admired and respected players in world football, both on and off the pitch. He won everything he possibly could in a Manchester United shirt, and became both United’s and England’s all-time leading goal scorer whilst at the club.
Rooney’s importance to English football was not just about his talent on the pitch. Current England manager Southgate recognised this and thanked him for his incredible contribution to the national side, saying:
“Wayne has a fantastic football brain and the players really respond and listen when he is talking. I have to say he’s done that (lead the team) tremendously well, but now others have to grasp that initiative and responsibility and it is opportunity for people now. No one could ever question Wayne’s desire, his passion and his dedication to the cause.”
Now back at boyhood club Everton, Rooney is far from finished with his club career. But when the entire footballing community unites to thank someone for their contribution to the game, like they have this week, it is evidence of a player who has had a very special career. A leader, an inspiration and a role model for younger players, Rooney will go down in history as an England legend.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons