Euro 2016 qualifiers: An anti-climatic century

Euro 2016 qualifiers: An anti-climatic century
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England November 2, 2014.



(Sunday, 1am, Wembley Stadium)

Assuming that he stays injury-free in the next three days, Wayne Rooney will become England's ninth centurion on Sunday morning (Singapore time), winning his 100th cap against Slovenia.

With 43 goals to his name, he is currently the fourth-highest scorer in his nation's history, six behind leader Sir Bobby Charlton.

By any standards, Rooney has enjoyed a hugely successful career, and yet there is unease at his achievements in England.

He has been an excellent footballer, of course.

But has he been all that he could have been?

It seems ludicrous to debate the merit of a man with one Champions League winning medal and five Premier League titles to his name.

But the disconnect between the irrepressible teenager and the stagnating adult is so vast that many English fans will find it hard to celebrate the award of his golden cap.

To understand why, you have to return to 2002 and the emergence of the teenage Rooney at Everton.

English football hadn't seen a talent like his since Paul Gascoigne at Newcastle United in 1985. There hasn't been anything like him since.

He was like a nuclear reaction; fearsomely powerful and utterly unstoppable.

He played like a kid from the streets, tearing up and down the pitch, walloping the ball as if it had wronged him in some way.

He seemed to exude a palpable sense of disappointment when the full-time whistle blew, as if he wanted to keep playing until night fell.

Rooney made his name on a global scale in 2004 when the then- 18-year-old single-handedly powered England through the European Championships, a tournament that they should have won.


Two goals against Switzerland and another two against Croatia helped England to recover from an opening match defeat by France, but injury forced him out of the quarter-finals and Sven-Goran Eriksson's side lost out to Portugal on penalties.

It was the last tournament in which Rooney would impress.

Injured again in 2006, Eriksson should never have taken him to Germany for the World Cup.

Sir Alex Ferguson fought hard to keep his player out of the squad, but no one would heed his warnings.

Rooney was out of shape and under pressure, publicly deemed too important to miss out.

The scrutiny proved too much and, frustrated, he lashed out at Ricardo Carvalho and was sent off in the quarter-finals. Once again, England went home early.

By now, the backlash was building.

This was not Rooney's first red card.

His short fuse had been noted, and so had other issues.

There were scandals in his private life.

He was successfully sued by his former manager David Moyes after making false claims in his autobiography.

And England were getting worse.

The failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships was a humiliating failure for the so-called "golden generation" of which Rooney was now a major component.


Under Fabio Capello, England qualified for the 2010 World Cup at a canter, with Rooney in particularly inspired form.

But, when the tournament began, Rooney's form had dramatically declined.

He looked out of shape and upset. After one wretched display against Algeria, he shouted criticism of England's fans down a camera lens as he exited the pitch. England were eliminated in the second round.

When Rooney returned to England, a new storm broke; allegations of infidelity with prostitutes.

At the same time, Rooney was pictured smoking and drinking in the small hours just before pre-season training began.

He put in a transfer request at United amid rumours that a move to Manchester City beckoned.

Far from being the street football hero, he was now cast as the epitome of everything that was wrong with modern football. The 2010/11 season was abject.

The next year, he struck 27 goals and was named in the Premier League Team of the Year.

But Rooney was sent off in a final qualifier for the 2012 European Championships and was suspended for two of the three group games in eastern Europe.

Pushed back into the team at the expense of the in-form Andy Carroll, he was entirely uninspiring. England were eliminated in the second round.

There have been flashes of quality since, but Rooney's form has never stabilised, let alone returned to the joyful glory of his younger years.

He's slower now and hardly produces any moment of genius.

There's still something, as evidenced with an incredible penetrating run at the Etihad a fortnight ago.

But it's hard to reconcile the image of the teenage Rooney with the man we see huffing and puffing in midfield today.

Rooney deserves respect. To win 100 caps and to score 43 goals are extraordinary accomplishments.

But, when he takes the golden cap from Sir Bobby Charlton on Sunday morning, there will be those of us who will wonder what else he could have won, had he fulfilled his potential.

This article was first published on Nov 13, 2014.
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