“The game isn’t played on paper,” is an often used phrase to describe the unpredictable nature of football. It’s a fair point, aptly depicting the range of mildly surprising to batsh*t mental stuff that goes on in the most popular sport in the world.
However, paper often makes a good point. Quite often, the best team beats the inferior one, the player with the poor record “on paper” is often a poor player on grass, etc etc. Paper, like cliché’s are 90% true. On paper, Wayne Rooney is almost England’s greatest goalscorer of all time and well on the way of having a CV that stands up with the very best in the history of the British game.
England captain, Manchester United captain, seven goals away from beating Bobby Charlton’s Three Lions record and 30 away from Dennis Law’s at Manchester United. It’s entirely conceivable Rooney will be captain and leading scorer of the most successful club in the country and the country itself before his 30th birthday.
The achievements are remarkable, revealing a consistency from an unerringly early age that has continued unabated over the course of a decade. Since joining United in 2005, Rooney hasn’t scored less than 15 goals, playing in a variety of positions from striker, winger and even central midfielder (a brief experiment from Alex Ferguson to perhaps find the next Roy Keane in-house).
Clearly, Rooney isn’t merely a finisher like Dennis Law, or England sniper Gary Lineker – two ex-players who the ex-Everton starlet will soon overtake. Rooney’s multi-faceted game has developed over the years where the modern day Rooney has a cacophony of strengths, able to pass, shoot, take set-pieces and provide above average (and often elite) production in a variety of roles. Although not as electrifying as in his earlier days, the more mature Rooney is still a good player – as capable of the sublime as any other player on the planet.
Yet, Rooney isn’t nearly as celebrated as the compatriots he’ll soon be joining in Three Lions history despite his records. As the next great hope after David Beckham and Michael Owen fizzled out, Rooney’s role as the flag atop the sinking ship entitled “The England National Football Team” has dampened enthusiasm around the striker.
Admittedly, Rooney has been as culpable as the rest of the English team on a whole for the footballing failings at successive international tournaments, but the buck should be shared equally. As Barney Ronay wrote in the Guardian, Rooney, like the England team, is “pilloried for not being great rather than celebrated for just being good.”
Because while the country has been on Rooney’s back for not growing into the dominating force he threatened to in 2006, it is often forgotten how good of a player he has become in the meantime.
Questions over the striker’s attitude, his fallings out with Ferguson and multiple transfer requests while receiving a captain’s armband and a five year, £300,000-a-week contract has (sometimes rightly) distracted from the continually consistent work Wayne Rooney puts on the field, and the results he brings. The record on paper reflects that.
There is perhaps something inherently dislikeable about Rooney, or perhaps there is (more likely) tendency for UK media to belittle their own stars for not reaching the ceilings placed above them. It’s unlikely Wayne Rooney will hoist aloft the World Cup in his international career, but being the first player to score 50 goals for England shouldn’t be considered an afterthought either. Neither would the increasing likelihood of reaching 300 for Manchester United.
On paper, Wayne Rooney may finish his career as the greatest goalscorer to ever pull on an England shirt, and the most statistically impressive Manchester United player ever. He may never be placed on an all-time-XI by fans of either club or country. It’s an odd conflict that may fade with time as paper becomes the only record of Rooney’s career achievements, when the cloudy mood constantly encircling the 28-year-old finally fades.
Then, we may finally appreciate Wayne Rooney for what he did, rather than what he should have done.