Wayne Rooney’s grand farewell at Wembley on Thursday night split opinion. Things that are out of the ordinary tend to, and a return special appearance of this ilk had not been seen for an England international.
It gave extra meaning to a match played in front of thousands of empty seats, it gave Rooney a last ovation (well, several of them) from the fans who saw him at his best and worst in a Three Lions jersey.
The match itself was a bit of a damp squib. A young USA team was no match for even England’s second string, which allowed Rooney to enjoy a relaxed spell on the pitch in the second half.
His international career ends with 120 caps and 53 goals. No other England international has scored more. Rooney won the England Men’s Senior Player of the Year on four occasions and captained his country numerous times. All of these things are impressive, and he will be remembered for a long time as a very good, committed England international.
The numbers are impressive, but Rooney’s international career was ultimately forgettable.
Some of that is down to the immense hype as a teenager, some is down to team failings. The now 33-year-old served the national team for a long time, his durability as impressive as his records. In those 120 appearances, though, aside of the landmarks, there is a lack of defining moments (positive ones, at least). Rooney never had his Beckham against Greece free-kick, he never had his Owen against Argentina wonder goal.
A lot of that was out of his hands. Injuries and dysfunctional teams limited his effectiveness, particularly as managers could never seem to decide where he slotted into the side best of all. Rooney suffered alongside the Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard midfield mess – he was seldom allowed the freedom that he perhaps needed.
Rooney’s grand goodbye on Thursday might have been over the top for some. There’s plenty to criticise about Rooney’s international career, but he was available for England more than many others and his numbers secure him a place in England’s history. The timing of this, however, was perfect as Southgate’s younger, better England move onto the next chapter.
It might have all been about Rooney, but good performances from Jadon Sancho and Callum Wilson were just another reminder of the bright future of England’s national team. Moving on from the awkwardly named Golden Generation has understandably taken time. Rooney’s night under the arch was a full stop to an era of disappointment.
England’s performances since their World Cup heartbreak have shown that their journey to the semi-final will/should not be the peak of this generation. Southgate might not have players with the reputations of Rooney, Lampard or Gerrard, but he has a lot of talent and a clear plan.
Rooney deserved his big night. His England career, though, could look even more disappointing in a few years if the Three Lions continue on this trajectory.
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