According to Phil McNulty at the BBC, ‘Rooney was an outstanding England player - his record stands testament to that - but is he actually worth a place in the current squad? The answer to that was delivered a long time ago: of course not.’
He’s partly right; Rooney was an outstanding England player. In fact, with 53 goals he is England’s top scorer and when looking at the names of people he has surpassed, names like Lineker, Owen and Charlton, this is an achievement that cannot be easily discounted. With 208 goals he is also second to Alan Shearer for most goals scored in the Premier League, and 3rd on the list of most Premier League assists, just behind Ryan Giggs and Cesc Fabregas. Not only does he score goals, he creates them. And that’s not all he has to offer – he’s got winning experience. Rooney has won more trophies than the entire current England squad combined. That’s right, when he takes to the field in an England shirt later this month the number of trophies won by not just the starting line-up, but the entire squad, will be more than doubled.
But that’s all history because he’s past it now. Right? Sort of. But no.
At the end of the last Premier League season Rooney left Premier League Everton to join DC United, a team bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference. DC United were well into the season at this point, and he captained them to the play-offs. Admittedly, the skill and ability in MLS may not be at the same standard as the Premier League, but the physicality is there, and along the way he scored 12 goals and helped the team with 7 assists. All of this in only 20 games as he dragged the team up the table to 4th in the conference. His efforts have earned him a nomination for Most Valuable Player. He played just over half of the season, playing in 20 out of 34 games in the regular season, and had such an influence on the team and league that he is nominated for a top player award. Let that sink in for a moment because this is where McNulty misses the point.
Think back to England v Croatia in the World Cup semi-final. England go a goal up early, but lose their way as Croatia pull a goal back and go on to win in extra time. The squad was short on experience and Harry Kane, team Captain, has never won a club trophy. Not one. At 25 years old, Harry Kane has played for 8 full seasons, 5 in the Premier League, and never won a single competition. Rooney had won the Champion’s League and multiple Premier League titles by the age of 25. What England needed wasn’t just someone who could score goals, they needed someone who could lead from the front. They needed an inspirational figurehead to drag them over the finish line to victory. What they needed was someone who knew how to win on a big stage. They needed someone like Rooney, and if not like Rooney, the man himself.
Sometimes a game needs more than just youth and ability. A few years back in 2011 little Stevenage FC beat Newcastle United in the FA Cup. The manager of Stevenage, Graham Westley, told the players he wanted them to score 5 goals. They only scored 3, but they only let in 1, so it was a shoot for the sun and hit the moon moment. Westley masterminded this with his own personal mantra (and name of his company) AIMITA – Attitude Is More Important Than Ability.
Westley drags success out of his players through demanding the highest levels of commitment and a never-give-up attitude. Is he everyone’s cup of tea? No. But he gets results. You know who else has an unending thirst for winning and a trail of success in his path: Wayne Rooney.
Ability is essential, but only part of the formula for success. How many talented young players are being let go from academies, not because they don’t have the ability, but because they don’t have the attitude? Ex-player and current Performance and Results Coach, Drewe Broughton talks about this constantly – the need for focus and sacrifice to meet the goals. Sport psychologists will say the same, the drive to succeed and improve is more important than ability, and Rooney has shown this constantly for the past 16 years.
Rooney may be getting older, but his mind and attitude are as sharp as anyone in the England squad. Sure, from a speed perspective he may not be where he once was, but any 22 year old stepping on the field with Rooney is playing with a legend who still has the heart of the lion within him. From the perspective of attitude, experience, and success the question isn’t whether Rooney playing cheapens the England call-up, but how is it possible for a player to get a call-up when they have won nothing. If anything, it should be the current squad asking if they have earned the right to play alongside Rooney.