The term ‘world-class’ is one that’s often far too freely bandied about in football but very few players truly live up to the tag. Whether it be an agenda, pre-conceived notions or just flat-out bias, a lot of us would like to think we possess a player within our ranks worthy of the accolade, but is Wayne Rooney really deserving of it?
Firstly, let me just get my viewpoint on Wayne Rooney out of the way; he’s an exceptional player and has been for some time, he may not be quite as special as we all once hoped he would be, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s been one of the best players in the top flight for the past five or so years.
However, I wouldn’t quite go as far as to reward him with the ‘world-class’ tag, for his performances simply vary way too much and you’d never have caught Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini playing as poorly as Rooney has done on many occasions, often on the biggest stages of all.
The crucial thing that separates Rooney from the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo is consistency. The 26-year-old can of course play as well as the aforementioned quartet during spells of good form, but they are normally bookended by periods where he couldn’t hit a barn door or play a simple five-yard pass.
He’s the best player that England have at the moment, there’s no doubt about that and alongside Ashley Cole, Joe Hart and perhaps in the future if he returns from injury in a similar vein, Jack Wilshere, of being on the border of world-class, but he’s not quite there yet and may never be.
The way I define the term is could he walk into any other team in world football and have a guaranteed starting spot every week – Rooney would probably walk into every team on the continent, Real Madrid and Barcelona aside, which is no bad thing in itself, but it is always met the the crucial caveat of him being ‘fit and on form’ which is the main point which stops him from making that next big step up in terms of quality.
There’s also the fact that his record for England at major tournaments has been patchy to say the least, very much like David Beckham’s was in that regard. He’s still contributed a fairly decent return of 29 goals in 76 caps for his country, but he’s not delivered on the biggest stages since Euro 2004.
Of course, international football is no longer the pinnacle of the game like it once was between the 50s-90s, but when you factor in that he’s been relied upon heavily throughout his time with England, and that he’s consistently failed to be the player we all think him capable of being, then his failures become more important and carry more weight as a result.
Nevertheless, he has still managed to score 64 league goals in his past three seasons and 85 across all competitions and despite this slump of form and the fact that his position is somewhat under threat by the arrival of Robin van Persie, he is still a superb player capable of changing a game.
Ever since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid back in 2009, Rooney has been asked to assume the mantle of carrying the attack, which he has done with his weight in goals and he remains a versatile performer, even if he lacks discipline both positionally and in the tackle at times.
His all-round game may have developed at the cost of that little bit of magic that set him apart when he first broke through onto the scene and he now looks an altogether slower, less trickier player now than he was in the past. Comparing him to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo does him no good at all, and he’s much more at ease alongside company such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and David Silva instead, of players who are undoubtedly of a continental calibre, but lack that defining characteristic that sets them apart.
The term itself is transient and fluid and a spell of form can often be described as world-class but that in itself doesn’t make the player that permanently, rather he is playing like a supposed world-class player does most of the time – Rooney is quite possibly the best example in world football at present of falling into this category.
There is no shame in that and without the rush to call him something he is not, we may start to appreciate what he actually is a lot more. Rooney is a very good player, sometimes brilliant, but he lacks the consistency to truly merit the term and the nature of his passport has seen him proclaimed to be something he may never be capable of becoming.
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