This is a going to be a different World Cup for Wayne Rooney. In fact, this is going to be a different World Cup for the majority of England supporters. Even those who continue to cling onto national flags with blind hope are doing so well out of eye-shot of the rest of us.
Rooney expects different from himself this time around. He’s speaking as a player who knows his time is running out. He may have dismissed Paul Scholes’ notion that he peaked two years ago at the age of 26, but his admission that this could be the last time he has a chance to make a notable impression at a World Cup in a way confirms Scholes’ standing.
The Manchester United and England striker was troubled four years ago in South Africa, admitting to missing his family and taking the harsh criticism of England supporters to heart. Four years before that in Germany, injury problems spilling over from the previous league campaign held him back and prevented a fitting follow-up from his performances at Euro 2004 in Portugal.
Rooney isn’t weighed down by any of that in Brazil. The expectation, while still there for him on an individual level, has lessened significantly for the whole of the England squad. Supporters aren’t expecting much; some believe the team will be lucky to get out of a group which features Italy and Uruguay, two nations who hold no confusion about who their team leaders and star players are.
David Moyes made a telling comment about Rooney’s perceived status in the game. If he’s considered one of the best in England – and by extension Europe – why did Chelsea only bid £25 million for him? £25 million in a summer that saw Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani move for well over double that and Gareth Bale almost four times as much.
Rooney may think he knows where he stands in the modern game – he has an exceptional scoring record for both England and Manchester United – but he needs to convince the doubters, he needs to convince those who aren’t sure he’s worth much more than £25 million, or £300,000 per week in wages, or a level of armour so thick it prevents him from ever being dropped from the national team.
England’s problems and clear weaknesses in comparison to those nations who are considered favourites for the tournament won’t be rectified simply by Rooney taking to the pitch in a happier mood than he has done at the last two World Cup finals. Instead, he’ll be doing a heck of a job enhancing his own career. He needs to score a few goals at this World Cup. It’s absolute lunacy to talk about a player like him – complete with all the trimmings of club status, national team status, wages, past potential – and then latch on the fact that he’s never scored at a World Cup.
Rooney hasn’t developed far enough to drag this England team into, say, the semi-finals by himself. You expect that of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Even though Portugal aren’t considered major threats at this tournament, Ronaldo’s talent is so otherworldly that he could feasibly lead his national team deep into this summer’s finals.
Rooney doesn’t have that. He’ll need good performances from the rest of his teammates for England to produce and subsequently shock.
The player needs to have a good World Cup for himself above all else. In his interview with Daniel Taylor of the Guardian, Rooney advised the younger players to enjoy it, to enjoy the occasion of a World Cup in Brazil. That advice would be equally, if not more, fitting for Rooney himself. He’s won the lot at club level, but, international glory aside, he’s yet to really deliver at an international tournament post-2004 where he can feel satisfied with what he’s achieved.