Is the national team ready to move on from Wayne Rooney?
10 years ago Wayne Rooney suffered a metatarsal injury that put his attendance at the 2006 World Cup into doubt and England’s hope of victory in Germany hung in the balance as daily updates sent the nation into a frenzy of broken footed madness. Rooney, a young outrageous talent with a fierce competitive streak, was touted as the best player from these shores since Paul Gascoigne. Two years prior he had lit up Euro 2004, bursting onto the international stage and finishing as England’s top scorer before securing a move to Manchester United from boyhood club Everton. English football had hope once more. The ‘golden generation’ of Beckham, Gerrard, Neville et al. had their last missing piece and it came in the shape of the man from Merseyside. If he could do this at his first major tournament what would he do at the World Cup after plying his trade at one of the world’s top clubs?
Well fast forward two years back to 2006 and the country was worried they’d never find out. Fortunately Rooney’s foot healed and he joined the squad in Germany. England’s hopes, rightly or wrongly, were pinned to Rooney like no player since the aforementioned Gascoigne and as he trudged off the pitch in Gelsenkirchen in the quarter final against Portugal, having been sent off, it appeared England’s second World Cup triumph went with him. So it transpired as Portugal triumphed on penalties.
Looking over the 10 years since then it has been bestowed upon Rooney to reignite that youthful exuberant form that had us all so excited, any chance England has had in a major tournament seems to have come down to Rooney being at it, that is until now. Rooney’s latest injury by no means leaves his Euro 2016 contention threatened, he will be fit enough in plenty of time before Roy Hodgson has to announce his squad. Yet the announcement of Rooney’s injury could not have received a more polar opposite of a response to his 2006 ailment. The 2016 vintage of Rooney’s injury has almost been welcomed, giving England a chance to find balance up front. Rooney’s form this season has been patchy at best, not aided by having to feed off of the scraps Louis Van Gaal’s drab football offers up.
This has coincided with the Jamie Vardy inspired Leicester and Harry Kane proving he is a genuine Premier League forward this season. Worse for Rooney’s status as England’s main man up top is the return of Danny Welbeck and more-so Daniel Sturridge, both of whom have hardly played this season and yet both have already notched in their opening few games back from injury. For the first time in his England career Rooney’s position is not a given, the last flag bearer of the ‘golden generation’ seems to be losing the over-reliance Three Lions fans have put on him for over a decade. A new generation is being ushered in and there are murmurings England may be better without Rooney. The unthinkable for so long, seems to be finally upon England’s top scorer and it may be a good thing.
Good, not because Rooney will not play in France this summer, I have no doubt that he will make Hodgson’s starting XI, but because for the first time since Euro 2004 he can play with freedom. Nobody is expecting much of him this time around for the first tournament since he came through and we may just see a Rooney rolling back the years. Playing in a no doubt more liberating system for England than at United, surrounded by exciting players that resemble the 2004 version of himself and released from the all too expectant home faithful, do not write Rooney off just yet. He may just be about to fulfil that international promise that has been maturing for 12 years.