Belfast Telegraph

Wayne Rooney's England career could be full of regret

By Paul Scholes

I first remember Wayne Rooney from a game at Old Trafford in 2002 when he came on as a substitute for Everton and in a brilliant 15-minute performance, skipped past me on a couple of occasions.

It was obvious then that this 16-year-old was some talent, and to think he is England's leading player more than 12 years on is quite an achievement.

Winning 100 caps for your country at the age of 29 would be a landmark in the career of any player. The goals Wayne has scored are testament to his quality and even now he is the man whom England look to when they need a breakthrough.

The England team we played together in at Euro 2004 would have beaten Portugal in that quarter-final had Wayne not got injured and I believe we would have got past Holland and into the final.

Quite simply, at that tournament, the opposition could not handle his energy and his goalscoring. Since then, like so many English footballers, Wayne has found tournament football that much harder and England's failures there will surely be his greatest regret.

He is not alone. I would say the same about my own four international tournaments. As a team England were not good enough and post-2004 the story was the same.

Wayne will have to balance his personal achievements with the failure to win anything with England.

Caps and goals are important and it is right that Saturday will be about Wayne, but ultimately you are judged on trophies and he is running out of time to win one for England.

I played in Wayne's debut against Australia and remember him coming into the squad. He was just a boy, but he had a very strong mentality. He has never appeared to be nervous - either when he walked into that England squad for the first time, or the Manchester United dressing room 18 months later.

As a footballer, it would be fair to say he has everything. He can finish, be it tap-ins or spectacular goals. He can pass the ball long or short. He can head the ball and he can tackle.

In those early days at Euro 2004 he was a flying machine who would run at defenders and beat them, but your game has to change as you get older.

People say Rooney could have been like Lionel Messi, a more prolific goalscorer who dribbles past opponents more, but they are different characters. You will never see Messi snapping around the heels of an opponent to win the ball back deep in his own half. Wayne does that all the time.

You have to remember that he has been playing at this level since he was 16. He has had injuries too. To continue playing late into your 20s in the same style that you once played as a teenager is not possible.

Wayne has also been a victim of his own versatility. He can play anywhere from either wing, to central midfield and the No 10 role. My view has not changed. He is best as a centre-forward in a position where he can score goals.

I get asked whether I would like to have reached the century of caps that have been accumulated recently by David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and now Wayne.

My attitude is that it is not the numbers which matter so much. What matters is the quality of your play, and by the end of my England career, which came after Euro 2004, I felt that my quality had slipped too far. I did not warrant being in the team.

I think - I hope - Wayne has one more World Cup left in him after next summer's European Championship.

I would not like him to end his international career as so many of us have done.

That is to say, with a shelf full of winners' medals from our club careers and just a cupboard full of caps - and plenty of regret - from our days with England.

Source: Independent

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