Time for Wayne Rooney to step up and be counted
Wayne Rooney will lead England out to face San Marino at Wembley tonight in what will be the highlight of his international career; and a time to step up and be counted.
It is just over a year since Rooney’s act of stupidity in the Three Lions’ final Euro 2012 qualifier in Podgorica, where he hacked Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic to the ground.
The 26-year-old admits he has grown up since then, but it is something which England fans have heard before in an international career which has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that have placed on him since Euro 2004.
He has had two forgettable World Cups; being rushed back for the 2006 tournament after suffering a metatarsal injury and consequently getting sent off in the quarter-final against Portugal for allegedly stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Fast-forward four years to South Africa and Rooney produces a series of below-par performances as England exit in the second round; including a rant down a television camera after the abject 0-0 group-stage draw with Algeria.
Meanwhile at this year’s European Championships, he was a shadow of the player we thought he would become; his lack of match fitness was evident as Rooney struggled with the pace of the match against Ukraine, despite scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory to send England into the quarter-finals.
Despite a highly respectable record of 29 goals in 76 caps, including 11 goals in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, Rooney has managed to muster just four strikes in his last 21 appearances for England.
He is a player who thrives on the ball and being at the centre of an attacking move, not someone who can play upfront on his own and wait for a chance to come his way; possibly leading to his hot-headedness when he is not as involved with the action.
But there are some reasons for optimism; Rooney’s admission that he has matured has been given credence by the fact that he has been booked just once in the following 44 games for club and country since that match in Podgorica.
He appears to be rejuvenated by the arrival of Robin van Persie at Manchester United; and perhaps takes some of the pressure away from a man who had to live up to the talismanic expectations placed on him at Old Trafford.
The former Evertonian also produced arguably his best performance of the season so far in a 3-0 win at Newcastle last week; and played in a deeper role to supply the likes of Van Persie and pick out a number of superb passes.
It is becoming obvious that he is more than capable of playing in a deeper role for both club and country, with arguably his best position being just behind the main striker.
But a player like Rooney is assessed on goals; and he has the perfect opportunity to fill his boots tonight against a side ranked at 207th in the world, with two more strikes taking him to fifth in the country’s all-time scoring charts.
If Rooney is to return to his status as a world-class player then he needs to maintain his discipline and take each game by the scruff of the neck, even if the match is not going to plan.
Tonight could well be the start of Rooney’s long road to redemption at international level.
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