Wayne Rooney more than made his mark on the international stage

Mark Lawford
Wayne Rooney is England’s leading scorer of all time

No England fan will ever forget the name Wayne Rooney.

From the moment his arrival was announced on the Premier League stage with that goal for Everton against Arsenal on October 19, 2002 as a raw 16-year-old talent, the striker’s fast track into the national team was a given.

That came against Australia at West Ham in February 2003, when coach Sven-Goran Eriksson handed Rooney his senior England bow, becoming the youngest player to represent his country, and he would soon become the youngest goalscorer en route to Euro 2004.

The teenager caught the world’s attention in Portugal by scoring a brace against first Switzerland and then Croatia as England recovered from an opening loss to France.

This was, we all believed, the start of something special, a once-in-a-generation goalscorer to join the ranks of Jimmy Greaves and Gary Lineker, and even perhaps eventually surpass the record of Sir Bobby Charlton.

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This was, though, also England, and all those years of hurt have taught us things are never so straightforward.

As Rooney limped out of the quarter-final against Portugal in Lisbon, you sensed England’s hopes went off with him, and so it proved as another dreaded penalty shoot-out ended in heartbreaking defeat.

It could have all been so different, of course, but that balmy summer would set the tone for Rooney’s international career, coming so close yet always being left with a sense of what might have been.

Wayne Rooney receives his award for becoming England’s record scorer from Sir Bobby Charlton.

The nation prayed for Rooney’s fractured metatarsal to heal in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup after the then Manchester United forward faced a race against time to be fit to be on the plane to Germany, where England’s ‘Golden Generation’ were supposed to finally come of age.

Rooney was our talisman, the one player whom every other nation feared, the street footballer who could turn a match with a moment of wonder but which to him was delivered with the same ease as if he had been enjoying a kick-about with his mates back home in Croxteth.

It was his greatest strength, and perhaps also his greatest weakness.

The red mist descended in Gelsenkirchen, where Rooney, possibly in frustration at not being able to live up to the weight of expectation on his not fully fit shoulders, stamped on defender Ricardo Carvalho and was given his marching orders, as a winking Cristiano Ronaldo looked on.

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Extra time and a defeat on penalties, of course, was inevitable. Also certain was how dependent England would remain on Rooney.

He was the man, now 24, Fabio Capello turned to for his captain when John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were not available for the friendly with Brazil in Qatar in November 2009 as the Three Lions looked to move on from the failings under Steve McClaren.

The 2010 World Cup presented another opportunity for Rooney to take centre-stage, but again there would be disappointment for both player and country, which boiled over with an outburst against the travelling support straight down a TV camera in the wake of a lacklustre goalless draw against Algeria in Cape Town before a 4-1 humiliation by Germany in Bloemfontein.

Rooney went into Euro 2012 with a two-match suspension, ruling him out of the opening group matches before finding the net against Ukraine to once again become England’s saviour only for fate to deal another penalty shoot-out defeat, this time against Italy.

Wayne Rooney scores England’s third goal against Croatia at Euro 2004

Despite not being able to deliver at an international tournament, Rooney remained on course, slowly but surely, to close down on both a century of caps and Charlton’s tally of 49 goals, finally breaking his World Cup drought in Brazil, albeit in defeat against Uruguay in Sao Paulo as England finished bottom of the group.

Appointed successor to Steven Gerrard as England skipper under Roy Hodgson, there was new hope again on the road to Euro 2016, which little did we know it then would be Rooney’s final appearance at a major championships having made the most of being deployed in a deeper midfield role.

The landmarks of both a century of caps and goals were chalked off en route to France, where a man who had served his country so tirelessly deserved more than the way Hodgson’s talented squad were left humiliated by the defeat to Iceland in Nice.

That presented Rooney with the opportunity to follow Hodgson out of the England spotlight, but it is testament to his character that the captain stayed on to help usher in a new era under Sam Allardyce’s short-lived reign, even if he sensed then he would no longer be the man around which the side revolved.

While England is now left to find another talisman on the field under Gareth Southgate, for the generation who watched him pull on the Three Lions jersey 119 times and score 53 goals, there will only ever be one Wayne Rooney.


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