For all the hue and cry over England giving their record goalscorer what was effectively a testimonial on Thursday, Wayne Rooney made sure to show exactly why he’d earned the honour. In case being the record scorer wasn’t enough.
The former Manchester United striker’s one-time-only recall had ruffled feathers among some in the football establishment, as people wondered what happened to Gareth Southgate’s philosophy of always looking to the future, and picking players only on merit.
When he came on in the 58th minute alongside Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson, then proceeded to look like England’s best player the rest of the way, those arguments should have been quelled. Indeed, maybe some started a new one: did England discard Rooney too early?
Whether they did or not is irrelevant, especially after the new-look Three Lions achieved their best World Cup finish this summer since winning it all in 1966.
But at least the criticism of the England set-up for giving Rooney a farewell match should have died down. The Wembley crowd was pleased to send off one of their country’s legends, Rooney revelled in the moment, and his team-mates enjoyed the occasion.
Given that it was a friendly, with nothing in the balance even before Jesse Lingard, the man Rooney came on for, and Trent Alexander-Arnold staked the side out to a 2-0 lead to make sure there was absolutely no pressure on the DC United talisman whatsoever, the night ended up being a demonstration of how to appreciate a departing hero’s contributions.
Some pointed out that others had not been afforded such an exit. That, of course, is not Rooney’s fault, nor that of the current England set-up. The current management saw an opportunity, the player was on board, and with nothing at stake, arranging the appearance ended up harming no one. Why the fuss?
If anything, hopefully this sets a precedent. If and when Harry Kane breaks Rooney’s scoring record, as the senior man thinks his colleague will, perhaps he too should be afforded a farewell match when he decides to hang up his boots. All the more so if Kane does what Rooney and the rest of England’s golden generation could not, and win a trophy, but that should hardly be a requisite. Not when England failed to win a trophy for 49 years before Kane’s debut, or, in Rooney’s case, 37 years before his.
In any case, Rooney’s form has been good enough to prompt talk of a return to the Premier League, if only for a loan spell until the MLS season starts. Though it’s been only one season, there are parallels to be drawn with David Beckham, whose own MLS form in the late 2000s earned him loan moves back to Europe, as well as continued England call-ups.
England’s starting line-up has fewer total caps (94) than Wayne Rooney— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) November 15, 2018
It is England’s least experienced starting line-up since May 1980 (46 caps going into a friendly v Australia)
Lewis Dunk & Callum Wilson win 1st caps, Dele Alli is the most experienced player, with 31 apps pic.twitter.com/WRBZ3c3Wcc
And how nice would it have been if, after the heartbreak of missing out on the 2010 World Cup through injury, Beckham – then England’s record cap-holder for an outfield player, until Rooney broke that record in 2016 – had been afforded one last bow in front of an adoring Wembley crowd?
Rooney may not get the continued run in the national team that Beckham did. In any case, he had announced his retirement long before he could start figuring in World Cup plans, so there was little talk of a return. Even if his MLS form remains good enough to earn him more recalls, it seems like the 33-year-old has already decided he is done with the England shirt.
Thursday’s fixture, an easy 3-0 win over the USA in which the man of the moment pulled the strings for his side for the entire half an hour he was on the pitch, was a good compromise that should be afforded to other legends of English football once they’ve earned it.
Perhaps this is how farewells should always be done.
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