It feels almost bizarre to think that this month marks a decade since Clive Tyldesley uttered the now immortal phrase, “remember the name, Wayne Rooney.” Indeed, as the fresh faced, then Evertonian Rooney, lashed that swerving shot against a stranded David Seaman during The Toffees’ 2-1 Premier League win over Arsenal in 2002, great things were expected of a player who was unsurprisingly doused in all the expectation and hyperbole that came with being England’s next big thing.
So with the passing of ten years since Rooney’s landmark strike, it seemed like a good time to evaluate a career that has somewhat polarized public opinion. And you can’t help but shake the feeling that the overwhelming public consensus towards the Croxteth-born star’s development, has been one of lingering disappointment.
But while no one can deny that Rooney – who celebrated what was only his 27th birthday yesterday – has produced some bitterly disappointing lows in his career so far, are we necessarily giving the Englishman a fair evaluation? Because even if he hasn’t managed to fulfil the often unworldly expectations of the English media, his résumé suggests if we take off the blinkers for just a minute, he’s actually not done that badly at all.
If we cast our minds back to that Saturday afternoon at Goodison Park, perhaps we should ask ourselves what would all have constituted a fair level of expectation, for the fledgling 16-year-old that had just put Arsene Wenger’s team to the sword.
If you’d have suggested that anything less than a quartet of Premier League titles, a Champions League triumph (and two runners-up medals), a couple of League Cup wins and a PFA Player’s Player of the Year award during his career, would have been deemed a relative failure, the chances are you’d have produced more than a few frowns. Yet Wayne Rooney has achieved all of the above. Not that it appears to count for much, though.
Of course, reeling off achievements of the honours list doesn’t tell the full story and football isn’t as black and white as that. But as a nation of cynics, we seem so quick to focus on the negatives, that we so often seem to overlook the positives. And Rooney has produced quite a lot of them, too.
Since his arrival at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney has never failed to score less than 11 goals in the Barclays Premier League. Through times of injury, suspension and sometimes-woeful lack of form, the very minimum effort that Rooney has output as a goalscorer in his eight full seasons at Old Trafford, is double figures. That’s not bad at all.
Indeed, some will wheel out the notion that his goals to game ratio could be a little better and in to some extent, that’s correct. But let’s not forget, it wasn’t till the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, that Rooney was truly liberated as a goal scoring presence under Sir Alex Ferguson. Coincidentally, Rooney went on to enjoy his best season in front of goal after the Portuguese left, netting 34 times in all competitions during the 2009-10 term; a record not to be smirked at in any capacity.
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Under the bright lights of the European stage, Rooney is often the subject of some relatively harsh critique, too. Although his record of 31 goals in 71 games, isn’t too far off a more than respectable strike rate of one-in-two. Furthermore, let’s not forget that his two Champions League runners up medals have come against arguably the greatest club side of our generation, if not the modern game, in the Barcelona team under Pep Guardiola.
And it is within that Barcelona team, that we perhaps find an interesting catalyst in the often hideously skewed expectations of Wayne Rooney. So often he’s maligned at his perceived lack of ‘world-class’ ability and his ‘below-par’ performances compared to Europe’s elite. But comparing him to Lionel Messi or indeed his former Old Trafford colleague Cristiano Ronaldo, is where part of the problem lies.
How can Rooney ever be perceived to be anything less of a failure, when the benchmark of which observers wish to compare him to, is almost impossible for him to ascertain? Messi and Ronaldo are absolutely peerless within the game and they’re not just two of the greats in European football at this present moment in time, but two of the greats to have ever played the game. If that’s what world-class represents, of course Rooney can’t boast that title. But then again, neither can anyone else, bar perhaps a Xavi or Andres Iniesta.
And it’s within managing the expectations set about Wayne Rooney, that is key to defining his career so far. On a national level, it is increasingly difficult to argue against a distinctly disappointing output of performance. But then again, does that concept not apply to the vast majority of his teammates as well? For long periods during his England career, Rooney has been playing with players of an inferior quality and both fans and media are almost begrudgingly aware of that.
The list of institutional issues that have hampered the national side are so vast and complex that you couldn’t fit it in this article, but the tendency to let that fall on the wayside in favour of a belief that Rooney could perhaps single handedly win England a tournament is nothing short of absurd. For as much as he had a stinker, the comparisons of Rooney to both Messi and Ronaldo before the World Cup in 2010 were absolutely nonsensical. The truth is, he isn’t that good, he never has been and he never will be. Who else is?
But that doesn’t mean he’s not a outstanding talent. Yes, he doesn’t play with the rawness or the freedom that we saw snapshots of in the blue of Everton, yes he has struggled to replicate his ability on the international stage and yes, he seems undeniably besieged by a perennial sense of inconsistency. But in the ten years since he scored that magical goal, we have seen a display of unwavering grit, superb goals and magical vision that has seen him fire his side to Premier League glory and European finals.
How will history judge Wayne Rooney? It’s perhaps too early to say. He can win as many trophies, attain as many personal accolades and score as many goals as he wants. But maybe none of that will ever counter-balance a very bloated sense of public expectation.
Do you think Wayne Rooney has fulfilled his potential in the last ten years? Or do you agree that public opinion has simply asked far too much from him? Tell me what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let me know where you stand on it.