Wayne Rooney understands why his international return might divide opinion but hopes such occasions become the norm for England greats of the future.
Nobody has scored more goals for the national team, nor has any outfield player represented the Three Lions more, but news of the 33-year-old’s one-off comeback appearance against the United States still split opinion.
The debate over Rooney’s 120th and final cap dominated a packed press conference previewing the friendly, but the DC United forward brushed aside those questioning the decision to recognise in contribution.
Instead, the former Manchester United and Everton great hopes this will become the norm for stars of the future.
“I think everyone is entitled to their opinions,” Rooney said of a match that will support the Wayne Rooney Foundation.
“The most important thing is, speaking with the FA, we both felt it was right. The players obviously who I have spoke to and the FA (I) have spoken to, they agreed, they think it is right.
“As a country, obviously we haven’t done anything like this before. It’s the first time.
“I hope that in 10, 15 years’ time, we’re sat here for someone say Harry Kane, who could possibly go on and get the goal-scoring record.
“Then it will be something that happens again and of course it’s something different. I am not asking people to agree with it.”
While Rooney would have loved the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer to come into the dressing room during his playing days, his return has been slated by the likes of all-time cap holder Peter Shilton and his former interim England boss Stuart Pearce.
“I think we all know that a lot of the older players, particularly the players who won the World Cup, weren’t treated as well as possibly they should have been,” he said.
“But that’s through no fault of the members of the FA or coaching staff today. I think the FA are trying to move in a different direction and celebrate the players who have made an impact for their country. So, it’s going to split opinions because it’s the first one, but hopefully in the future there will be a lot more.”
Striking the balance between being authoritative and humble, Rooney confirmed that he turned down the chance to bid farewell in the World Cup warm-up friendly against Nigeria.
Rooney praised the work being done by “fearless” Gareth Southgate, who he was captain under during the manager’s interim reign.
The 33-year-old was impressed and proud in equal measures when watching England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals, but there was no tinge of regret about calling time on his international career.
“No,” Rooney said. “My decision, I believe still now, was the right decision.
“I could see the younger players coming into the squad and I just felt it was the right time for me obviously to stop playing, the right time for those younger lads to have the opportunity to step up.”
Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe told AFP on Thursday that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remain football’s greatest players but that his own World Cup heroics could help crown him the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner.
Mbappe, 19, inspired France to World Cup victory in Russia with four goals. One of those came in the 4-2 final victory over Croatia as he became just the second teenager after Pele in 1958 to score in the championship match.
He was also voted Young Player of the tournament and has since become Ligue 1’s leading scorer with 11 goals as Paris Saint-Germain run away with the French title.
Messi and Ronaldo have won the last 10 Ballon d’Or awards and Mbappe believes that they are still the sport’s top A-listers.
“Nobody is doing better at the moment and we can’t say it’s the end of their era because it will only end when somebody else does better than them,” Mbappe told AFP.
However, the young striker added: “I don’t think one of them will win the Ballon d’Or this year because it was a World Cup year, and the World Cup takes precedence.”
While Mbappe thrived at the World Cup, Messi’s Argentina and Ronaldo’s Portugal bowed out in the last 16.
“But if you take the player in the purest form, there’s nobody better yet. This year they were again the best two,” added Mbappe.
“Messi finished the best goalscorer in Europe; Ronaldo was the top scorer in the Champions League.”
Mbappe was speaking to AFP on Thursday at an event organised by watchmakers Hublot, one of his leading sponsors.
The last French player to win the coveted Ballon d’Or was Zinedine Zidane after the national team’s 1998 World Cup victory.
“Frankly, I hope so (win the Ballon d’Or). We achieved something big. It would not be unjust because that is a strong word, but it would be a shame if a Frenchman does not win it.
“We made history and it would be nice to be rewarded.”
Croatia’s Luka Modric, voted Best Player of the World Cup, remains favourite for the Ballon d’Or. However, Modric is 14 years Mbappe’s senior so the young Frenchman has time on his side.
He will also have time and opportunity to complete his journey from the tough streets of the down-at-heel Paris suburb of Bondy to a life of super-riches.
“PLAY TO WIN”
Mbappe, who will turn 20 just before Christmas, signed for PSG from Monaco for €180 million in 2017 in the second most expensive transfer of all time – behind PSG teammate Neymar who cost the French champions €222 million.
Off the field, he seems destined to match Ronaldo in the commercial stakes. Will his initials “KM” match the brand power of Ronaldo’s “CR7”?
“I don’t know because CR7 is something big, he has managed to build his brand and become international,” said Mbappe.
“Mine is not at this stage yet, I’m changing little by little.”
That development into the public consciousness saw him dominate the front page of Time magazine in October with the American publisher breathlessly showcasing the teenage as “the future of football”.
Out now: My @TIME international cover interview on @KMbappe. I asked Mbappé how he's handling mega-fame, at 19. He tells me he clings to home truths from mom, says the key is "respect, humility, lucidity." Merci Kylian et la famille Mbappé. pic.twitter.com/lbMSO0u5xH— Vivienne Walt (@vivwalt) October 11, 2018
Mbappe said that he will not be satisfied with winning just one World Cup.
When asked what he wants to win next, he said: “All the World Cups that I can play.
“I play to win; if I play four World Cups then I want to win four. We go step by step. I have already won one. You have to prepare and win with your club and with the national team also.
“There are short-term goals before thinking about the 2022 World Cup. But the aim always is to win.”
On being tipped to be the next true superstar once Messi and Ronaldo have retired, Mpabbe added: “I cannot control everything that is done and said.
“There is not just the pitch but everything around it must also be managed. It’s not easy but I’m learning, I’m still learning. I have people around me who help me overcome the challenges one after the other.”
The England international comically kicked the turf and took a tumble in the area during the Citizens’ 6-0 win over the Ukranian outfit but referee Viktor Kassai bizarrely pointed to the spot.
Sterling told BT Sport: “I went to chip the ball and I don’t know what happened next.
“I ended up on the floor and turned around. I don’t think I felt contact, it was just my bad.
“Apologies to the ref (Viktor Kassai) and apologies to Shakhtar.”
In his post-match press conference, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted “we realised immediately it was not a penalty”.
In light of the event, it’s easy to forget that Sterling was in top form and on the score sheet again as City bagged six goals in a game for the second time in four days.
The former Liverpool star registered two goals and two assists during City’s 6-1 demolition of Southampton on Sunday. That takes his tally in all competitions this season to seven goals and six assists. Sergio Aguero is the only Premier League player to manage more goal contributions so far (14).
It all points to the inescapable truth that Sterling has matured into one of the most effective English players in the game, even if that never quite came to the fore with the Three Lions at the World Cup in Russia.
Ever since Guardiola’s arrival in Manchester, Sterling’s game has been elevated to a whole new level. The sophistication in his play is there for all to see. He makes intelligent runs in behind but also drops into spaces cleverly and excels with his quick passing in the final third.
It’s almost as if Guardiola has removed the forward’s blinders and he can suddenly see the whole pitch with all the options and avenues available to him. Sterling had 22 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League and Champions League alone last season while he looks set to match that this term.
The one criticism that continues to haunt the 23-year-old though is that he has failed to deliver consistently in big matches with his poor record against the top six in the Premier League evidence of that.
In 43 league appearances against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool, Sterling has only scored nine times with five of those strikes coming against Spurs.
Because he’s been around for so long though, people forget that he’s still a young player and perhaps only now entering his prime but this is an area he will want to begin improving in from now on.
He gets his first go at it this Sunday with the Manchester derby providing the stage and the Red Devils bringing the challenge – opposition against which he has never scored.