Belfast Telegraph

Goals galore from Rooney but England's biggest moments eluded him


By Miguel Delaney

There is absolutely no debate that Wayne Rooney's very goal record makes him one of England's greatest players, but, from all those 53 strikes, there is still quite a telling debate about his entire international career. What actually was his greatest moment in an English jersey?

It is rather ironic, and reflects something significant about that international career, that it probably wasn't any of those goals at all.

It was something else. It was something from one of his earliest England games, at Euro 2004 when the very sight of him tearing so ferociously up the pitch seemed to cause utter panic and chaos in the French defence. It was as if, through sheer explosive power, he was making one of the most experienced backlines in the world forget everything they knew about the game.

It was not just about the moment, either. It was about what seemed possible for every moment after that. That a mere 18-year-old was already doing this, and that everyone knew about his developing talent, couldn't but fire the imagination; couldn't but inspire optimism about what was possible with that kind of potential.

As to whether he lived up to that potential? Many will say that becoming your country's top goalscorer should end any such debate, but Rooney probably said it himself in his retirement statement. "One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side."

You could extend to say that, beyond 2004, he never really had a successful individual tournament for England either.

This is by no means to blame or criticise Rooney, but is rather a lament for what might have been, because of the somewhat fickle nature of international football.

You could even argue that, given his obvious talent and general productivity for England, he is the unluckiest victim of the fact tournaments are mere vignettes in the sport.

A player's career has to effectively be timed to be on top form for four weeks of a year, something increasingly difficult in the club-driven modern game, and something that doubtless informed Rooney's decision to retire now.

It certainly affected his decisiveness in those tournaments.

One of England's greatest ever talents played in seven tournaments but was recovering from injury for 2006 and 2010, suffered from one of football's fundamentals in bad management in 2008 and 2014, was obviously on the decline for 2016, and missed half of 2012 through a needless red card.

It is probably not a coincidence, then, that Euro 2012 - the only competition other than 2004 when he could be said to have come into it relatively unencumbered other than an initial two-game suspension - saw one of what were just two goals from open play in such tournaments after his very first.

And that is the problem with trying to fairly recognise and pay actual respect to his time with England. What makes international careers is tournaments, not largely forgettable goals in qualifying campaigns England probably would have been successful in any way.

It means his England career is largely defined by goals against medium-level opposition, rather than the great historic moments he would have been capable of.

If you were to pick an all-time England XI, or even attempt to lay out the country's greatest, would Rooney's goals really elevate him ahead of Gary Lineker's golden boot in 1986, Alan Shearer's in Euro 96, or Geoff Hurst's World Cup winning hat-trick?

It means that, for a player whose international career was defined by goals, there is no defining goal; no single strike to really elevate it to those levels.

This is again not Rooney's fault, just his misfortune, and the contradiction of it all.

His was a great England career, with so many goals, but so few tournament moments.


14 years in focus

February 2, 2003: Aged 17 years and 111 days, Rooney becomes the youngest player to play for England, in the 3-1 friendly defeat to Australia.

September 6, 2003: Scores first England goal — an 18-yard half-volley against Macedonia in Skopje.

June 17, 2004: Becomes youngest player to score in European Championship history in England’s 3-0 win over Switzerland.

July 2004: Named in Euro 2004 team of the tournament after scoring four goals to help England reach the quarter-finals.

April 30, 2006: Fractures metatarsal in right foot during Manchester United’s 3-0 defeat at Chelsea, putting his World Cup place in doubt.

May 8, 2006: After sleeping in an oxygen tent to aid his recovery, Rooney is named in England’s World Cup squad by manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

July 1, 2006: Effectively costs England their place at the World Cup by being sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho in the quarter-final against Portugal. The Three Lions lose 3-1 on penalties.

November 9, 2007: Misses England’s crunch match against Croatia with an ankle injury. England lose and therefore fail to qualify for Euro 2008.

September 10, 2008: Helps England get revenge on the Croatians, ending a 494-minute goal drought as Fabio Capello’s team register a 4-1 win.

April 1, 2009: Wins 50th cap in home win over Ukraine.

November 14, 2009: Captains England for the first time in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Brazil in Qatar.

June 18, 2010: Aims an angry tirade into the camera straight after a 0-0 draw versus Algeria at the World Cup in South Africa. Rooney said: “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s loyal supporters.”

October 7, 2011: Sent off for kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s 2-2 draw versus Montenegro. Rooney receives a three-match ban, which is reduced to two on appeal.

June 19, 2012: Scores the winning goal on his return from suspension as England beat Ukraine to qualify for the second round of Euro 2012.

June 24, 2012: Scores in the penalty shoot-out versus Italy, but England crash out in the quarter-finals.

October 12, 2012: Marks his second appearance as captain with a brace in the 5-0 win over San Marino.

June 19, 2014: Scores his first World Cup goal against Uruguay, but Luis Suarez’s double effectively sends England out.

August 28, 2014: Named England captain by manager Roy Hodgson.

September 3, 2014: Marks the first match of his captaincy by scoring a penalty in a 1-0 win over Norway.

November 15, 2014: Wins his 100th cap, scoring a penalty in a 3-1 win over Slovenia at Wembley.

September 5, 2015: Equals Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 England goals with a penalty against San Marino.

September 8, 2015: On his 107th cap, scores his 50th England goal, a penalty in a 2-0 win over Switzerland, to become his country’s all-time record goalscorer.

June 27, 2016: Scores his 53rd and last England goal, opening the scoring from the spot as Hodgson’s side crash out of Euro 2016 with a 2-1 defeat to Iceland.

September 4, 2016: Wins his 116th cap, becoming England’s most-capped outfield player, in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win in Slovakia.

November 11, 2016: Plays his last game for England in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Scotland at Wembley. It is his 119th cap.

August 23, 2017: Announces his retirement from international football.

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