As far as footballing milestones go, representing one’s country 100 times is pretty special. Even in an age where lucrative yet ultimately meaningless friendlies in random neutral venues are being played with greater regularity – distorting the true impact of the current greats on the international stage – to become a centurion is still a marvellous achievement, especially for those footballers who play for the very best countries in the world and for whom the competition for caps is fierce.
Wayne Rooney became only the ninth England international to reach triple figures in the Three Lions’ Euro 2016 qualifying match against Slovenia earlier this month. Surely a cause for celebration, then; since he first burst onto the scene at Euro 2004, scoring four goals in four games as a raw, immensely talented 17 year-old centre forward, Rooney’s commitment to the national side has been admirable.
The Three Lions may not have enjoyed great success during the Manchester United captain’s international career, but Rooney still managed to become the country’s all-time top goalscorer in competitive internationals in 2013, and his record of 43 goals in 99 caps prior to the Slovenia game is not to be sniffed at. The match at Wembley was a chance for England fans, players, coaches and and pundits to congratulate Rooney on his hard work for the national side, appreciate his talents as England’s greatest player for a generation, and recognise his importance to the side’s chances of success in the future.
As it happened, pre-match discussion on the landmark match was dominated either by doubts over whether Rooney could truly be considered as an all-time England great, or by claims that the 29 year-old was a player in terminal decline whose best international days had come far too soon in his career. While a degree of contemplation is natural when a milestone in life is reached – think birthdays, and how we remark on how quickly time has passed – the negativity surrounding Rooney’s achievement was preposterous. Indeed, even the man himself seemed more preoccupied with ruing past mistakes than with looking forward to the special occasion, all of which gave a strange air of sombre glumness to what ought to have been a time of celebration.
Two weeks on, and one would sincerely hope that the question marks nonsensically hanging over the England captain concerning his contribution to the national side have dissipated altogether. As well as an expertly taken penalty against Slovenia in his one hundredth game, Rooney also shone in the match against Scotland at Celtic Park three days later, his two goals taking him up to third in England’s all-time goalscorers’ list. These two fixtures saw Rooney produce his finest performances in a Three Lions shirt for a very long time, which renders the argument that he is somehow past it as completely inaccurate.
In a week where the attention was centred solely around him, and his worth to the national side was placed under greater scrutiny than ever before, Rooney delivered. He may not be as prolific, explosive or captivating as he once was, but he is still an outrageously gifted footballer. His wonderful clipped finish against Arsenal in the Premier League over the weekend also highlights his importance to his club, and while several United fans may also hold the belief that his best days are behind him, the striker continues to score at a consistent rate of one goal every two games.
England and Manchester United’s best chances of glory lie with Wayne Rooney – a footballer who has his flaws, as well as his detractors, but who would be sorely missed when his playing days come to an end.
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