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How do we solve a problem like Wayne Rooney? For years, Rooney has been one of the true enigmas of English football. Prodigiously talented, but often condemned by a short fuse and poor advice from those around him, Rooney now finds himself in a position that only a few years ago none would have predicted – captain of the England football team. Is he the right man to be leading the country in a time when youth development and a complete national rebuild are the orders of the day?
As with many football fans, the first memories of Wayne Rooney involve him turning and jinxing through Arsenal’s defence, before unleashing a vicious 25-yard strike which dumbfounded audiences around the world. Not only had Everton unearthed a gem, England had as well. After an impressive Euro 2004, where Rooney scored four goals and was only stopped by an ankle injury, he secured a move to Manchester United, becoming the most expensive teenager ever in the process. He continued to produce goals and exceptional winning performances throughout his early years at Old Trafford, and was regularly spoken about in the highest terms.
In more recent times, however, Rooney’s prowess and ability to change football matches has arguably been on the decline. Perhaps in part down to the fact that he was playing the highest level of professional football aged just sixteen, Rooney is no longer able to tear away from defenders and make darting runs in behind. Goals, whilst not having dried up in recent years, are no longer scored with the ease that he displayed in his youth. Rooney is a good player, but is no longer one of the best.
Yet, as has been proven on countless occasions in football, the best players in a team do not necessarily make the best captains. Players such as Paolo Maldini and Carlos Puyol, whilst not being the headline grabbers of their teams, have developed into the best leaders in perhaps the last twenty years. They have an ability which cannot be taught – namely, the ability to galvanise their players and lead from the front. Unfortunately in the case of Wayne Rooney, a number of high profile misdemeanours and gaffes over the years make him an unlikely dressing room leader.
Rooney’s sending off at the 2006 World Cup, where he was dismissed for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho of Portugal, was only the beginning of a catalogue of errors. He was sent off in a pre-season tournament that very year for elbowing Pepe, culminating in another three-match ban.
Then began a period of relative calm in Rooney’s professional life; as expected though, this did not last. In 2010, he requested a transfer away from Manchester United, with many believing a desire for more money was the sole reason for his transfer. During the 2010 World Cup, he was also filmed swearing at English fans who had made the long journey down to South Africa to watch the team be eliminated at the hands of Germany in the last sixteen. All of these incidents smacked of immaturity and petulance – not traits required in a leader of a team.
In 2011, Rooney was again banned for swearing at spectators, this time receiving a two-match ban. This was soon followed by another red card on England duty against Montenegro – with England bossing the game, Rooney wildly kicked out at an opposition player, throwing away not only the game, but also his chances of leading the line at Euro 2012. In high pressure environments, senior players are required to stand up and lead their team – Rooney, on this and other occasions, crumbled under the most intense pressure.
In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year in charge of Manchester United, Rooney again handed in a transfer request, citing unacceptable wages as his reasoning for wanting to move on. Although Manchester United relented and offered him wages thought to be in the region of £300,000 per week, it must be questioned whether having someone prepared to act in this manner in charge of the national team is healthy for the development of England’s young players.
With all these errors and mistakes in mind, it may seem odd that Rooney suddenly finds himself in a position that very few get to experience. The fact is, however, that England simply have no-one else at this time who could lead the team. In a few years, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart and perhaps even young Everton centre back John Stones could be captaincy contenders, but for now Rooney is the only option.
With Roy Hodgson focusing on a period of rebuilding the team, England have very few senior players who would suit the challenge of leading England. Instead, the torch has been passed to Rooney – for the good of the England football team, the nation wishes him well, but apprehension remains about whether he truly is the right man for the job.