When the England squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Germany and Sunday’s World Cup 2018 qualifier against Lithuania was announced last week, the talking points centered around Jermain Defoe’s recall at the age of 34, Theo Walcott being dropped on his birthday, and the promising talents like James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Redmond, and Jake Livermore getting their first call-ups.
The fact there were no screaming headlines about national team captain and England’s all-time leading goalscorer not being selected speaks volumes about how far Wayne Rooney has fallen.
And it wasn’t a question of injury – the 31-year-old was declared fit to play a part in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
It has been a curious season for Rooney. The striker went past Sir Bobby Charlton to become Manchester United’s record goalscorer, just over a year after achieving the feat at international level.
That particular goal was a crucial one, an injury-time leveller at Stoke City, but it’s one of the few times this season that the former Everton man has had a significant influence on the outcome of a game.
Rooney has a manager who, not too long ago, coveted him so much that he gave serious consideration to moving to Chelsea to play under Jose Mourinho. But with Mourinho having recruited Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United and surprisingly placed his trust in players like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, despite not being known for his faith in youth, Rooney has fallen down the pecking order.
His reduced playing time at club level has promptly led to his exclusion from the England squad, and there are signs that the Wayne Rooney era of English football is coming to an end.
So where does he go from here?
Rumours have been bounded about since January that this could be Rooney’s last season at Old Trafford, with a move to another Premier League club and transfers to either the MLS or the Chinese Super League being mooted.
There have even been suggestions that United, who once made Rooney the most expensive teenager in football, could let their captain return to his boyhood Blues on a free transfer.
If Rooney’s goal is simply more playing time, then any one of these moves makes sense. Even if Ibrahimovic doesn’t stay at Old Trafford beyond this summer, Mourinho will surely buy at least one more attacking player while also looking to further the development of Rashford and Martial. With that in mind, Rooney will definitely get more minutes at Everton, West Ham, or whichever Premier League club wants to sign him, and he’d be a headline attraction in China or America.
But a move to the Chinese Super League or the MLS would almost certainly guarantee that his international career is over, and for a man desperate to play in one final World Cup, that would be a bitter pill to swallow. Staying in the Premier League would be the safest bet if he wants to earn an England recall.
The hardest option, but the one that would be the most rewarding? Stay at Manchester United.
Consult Ryan Giggs on how to go from precocious, explosive teenager to revered veteran playing at the highest level into his 40s.
Fight for a place at a club that will likely be competing for top honours again. Wear the captain’s armband while hopefully lifting either the Premier League or Champions League trophy. Find the form to knock down Gareth Southgate’s door demanding a place in the England squad for the World Cup.
Wayne Rooney was always known for playing with hunger, with desire, with a fire in his belly. Does he have the stomach for one last fight?