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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Wayne Rooney called time on England career while he was still wanted

Everton forward announced his international retirement on Wednesday, calling time on a career that brought 119 caps and a record tally of goals.

Wayne Rooney, right, received a phone call from England manager Gareth Southgate, left, on Tuesday telling him he was recalled for England's upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Rooney announced his international retirement on Wednesday. Carl Recine / Reuters
Wayne Rooney, right, received a phone call from England manager Gareth Southgate, left, on Tuesday telling him he was recalled for England's upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Rooney announced his international retirement on Wednesday. Carl Recine / Reuters

Perhaps there was never going to be a perfect goodbye for Wayne Rooney. Instead, he got a respectable farewell, at a time and in a manner of his choosing and when, he said, he was offered an international recall, rather than when dropped in the summer.

The happiest ending he had originally envisaged was at next summer’s World Cup but, increasingly, that had appeared a case of wishful thinking.

Instead, his international retirement was accelerated. He represented England 119 times, a record for an outfield player, and scored 53 goals, displacing the great Bobby Charlton from the history books.

He goes having proved his patriotism. He leaves after a swift U-turn. “Hopefully my performances will be good enough for Everton and Gareth Southgate won’t be able to ignore me,” he said when unveiled by Everton. His performances have been better than many expected, his goals in the opening two league games making a persuasive case to an England manager who had not been clouded by sentiment or fame when making the brave call to demote Rooney last season.

See Wayne Rooney's England career in pictures:

It is always better when a player of Rooney’s stature determines his own fate. In this case, it is also advantageous for England. Despite Rooney’s recent renaissance, some things have not changed.

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Harry Kane remains Southgate’s finest striker, Dele Alli his best No 10. Rooney’s presence, in whatever capacity, could have provided an unfortunate distraction. Far preferable to bow out now, when his form merited a place in the squad, than when axed ignominiously.

Which may have been a possibility. Southgate is the diplomat with a ruthless streak. Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, two who have flattered to deceive on the international stage, can testify as much. The manager has shown signs he would rather use those yet to be scarred by failure and England’s age-group sides, buoyed from a successful summer, are starting to churn out candidates. Rooney’s Everton colleague Dominic Calvert-Lewin might represent the future. Rooney does not.

He could make for a convenient scapegoat for others’ failings but while it is understandable the English Football Association were celebrating his England career, they should not mourn the end of an era. As the last of a golden generation, Rooney became a face of expensive, high-profile regression. He came into a team who had been World Cup quarter-finalists, eliminated only by champions Brazil, and left one who exited Euro 2016 in the last 16, ejected and embarrassed by Iceland.

He leaves a contradictory legacy; prolific in one respect, impotent in another. He was the big-name player who was better on the small stage. He mustered a national record of 30 goals in qualifiers but only six in major tournaments. Just two of those came since 2004 and one was a penalty in the Iceland defeat.

He was explosively brilliant in Euro 2004 but, a reasonable 2014 World Cup apart, a resounding disappointment in tournament football thereafter. Hampered by injuries, he was especially poor in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Sven-Goran Eriksson, manager until 2006, described him as “world class” but the key words were “during my time.”

Rooney was the tearaway match-winner who became the establishment figure. To use a cricketing analogy, he started off as Ian Botham and became Mike Brearley, picked for his captaincy, albeit a less cerebral, less successful brand.

The writing was on the wall when Southgate removed the armband. Rooney read it, responded and then scripted his own conclusion; not the fairy-tale finish of glory in Russia, but the dignified decision of a man who went out when he was still wanted.