Is booing one of your own players ever acceptable? What if that player is captain of your country? In light of the treatment of Wayne Rooney at Wembley by his own nation’s fans, supporters should stick to supporting.
Let’s get straight to the point: the booing of Wayne Rooney at Wembley Stadium against Malta was not only disrespectful but downright absurd. Unquestionably, everyone that watches sport has an opinion and is entitled to that opinion. However, the argument that Rooney should be dropped is one thing but to boo the man whilst he represents the nation he clearly loves is a sad indictment of English football and the wider context of social media-led opinion in sport in general.
The English, it would appear, love to destroy their own. In fact, it’s a trait shared by us Irish. We’re all experts at self sabotage. A case of not knowing what we have until it’s gone. In the modern age of smartphones, any person with access to an electronic keypad can now voice an opinion and it would appear that the anonymity of the computer screen encourages people’s darkest, most spiteful feelings to erupt in the hope of gaining a ‘notoriety’ which modern day media loves to report.
It is modern day ‘mob rule’, and what starts and snowballs on social media is now sadly finding it’s way into our stadia. What has Wayne Rooney done to deserve such a backlash? Apart from the crime of declaring for England over the Republic of Ireland, the man is, undoubtedly, a footballing legend and is living his, and every other Englishman’s, dream. But, perhaps, there lies the problem.
Football is a team game but it seems England’s failures are being solely laid at the feet of an ‘out of form’ Wayne Rooney. He doesn’t pick the team, nor has he made himself captain. He doesn’t call up injured players in place of in-form regulars nor does he choose his own position, preferred formation or style of play. Despite being the last English ‘street footballer’ since Paul Gascoigne, to my knowledge, he hasn’t threatened Gareth Southgate with taking his ball and going home if he doesn’t play against Slovenia.
He bravely faced the media – when it would have been easier to fade into the background – and reiterated his pride in playing for his country. He publicly committed to doing anything and everything to win his place back. Now, I don’t know about you but surely this is a good thing. The act of captain you might say. Let’s not forget, this is no ordinary player. This is a player that has represented his country since the age of 14 at under 15 level. To put his outstanding ability into context, this is a player who played and scored in the Premier League at the age of 16, played for the senior England side at 17, and remains England’s youngest ever goalscorer.
At such a young age, he showed tremendous loyalty to the Cross of St. George as he spurned other country’s advances, all because he sees himself, in his own words, as being “English through and through”. He has represented the England senior side 117 times and worn the captain’s armband for much of those. In those 117 caps, he has scored 53 goals, just shy of a goal every other game. He is England’s all-time record goalscorer. He is a PFA player of the year, a PFA young player of the year and a Football Writer’s player of the year. He is a Champions League winner, an FA Cup winner, a multiple League Cup winner and a multiple Premier League champion. His accolades, both collectively and individually, go on and on. He has never said no to his country; hence, the reason why he’s closing in on England’s all-time appearance record.
If he is guilty of anything, his crime is being a proud Englishman and being the outstanding English footballer of a generation. He has carried the hopes of a nation alone for too long. Here is a player that displayed potential as a kid and fulfilled it. He rose from the backstreets of a council estate and is now a multi millionaire. He’s had pressure since the age of fifteen and he’s not only dealt with that pressure, but embraced it and consistently achieved success. How dare anyone boo this man. If England fans are to boo anyone, then boo Theo Walcott for building false hope of being a ‘rooneyesque’ wonderkid and instead developed into a player who now, at the age of 28, still doesn’t know whether he’s a winger or a striker. It’s utterly nonsensical.
If England fans want a reason for their side’s underachievement, then the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of all those managers and decision makers who failed to build a team around a young Wayne Rooney. The golden generation were sold short by not embracing their match winner, their boy wonder. Too much pandering and accommodating of lesser stars. Only one question needed to be asked when picking an England team, ‘who will help Wayne Rooney flourish?’ Unfortunately, it was never that simple and it’s too late now.
Time waits for no man, particularly in football. Should he retire. Absolutely not. Why should he? I hear ex-players on UK sport radio saying he should walk away and I just can’t understand it. Perhaps it’s headline hunting or maybe even a touch of bitterness. Whatever it is, he should be supported, particularly from those that have played the game. International football is the pinnacle of footballing achievement, why should anyone give up on it? Why let the boo boys win? Form is temporary but class is, indeed, permanent. A bristling, resurgent Wayne Rooney will come again. That you can be sure of. He might not possess the gusto on the pitch he once did when he burst on the scene – that’s a fact of the ageing process – but he still has a lot to offer.
With age comes transition. As Manchester United struggle to identify a new style of play, so too is Wayne Rooney. Let us not forget that he is only 30 years of age and much of that career was spent working under the steady stewardship and the success-driven juggernaut that was Sir Alex Ferguson. Rooney is now in a period of form where, like all players, he needs support from his team’s supporters, in a ‘we’ve got your back’ show of support. Instead, Rooney was subjected to the modern day equivalent of ‘off with his head’. It’s the English way.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 35 and universally revered. Yet, while Ibrahimovic is apparently like a fine wine, getting better with age, Rooney, according to the British media, would appear to be ‘washed up’ despite being five years Ibrahimovic’s junior. Indeed, Rooney’s only crime is loyalty to the cause and desperation to play a part in his nation’s upturn in fortunes.
Rooney, like all English fans, is desperate to banish the memory of Iceland and a poor Euro 2016 campaign. He knows things need to improve and wants to be part of that. He wants his international legacy to finish on an upward curve. There’s much to admire about that mindset and he’ll need to fight tooth and nail to get back into the side. However, the greatest crime of all is that Rooney, at the age of 30 and for everything he has achieved and will achieve in the game, will always know he’s underappreciated at best and scorned at worst by those English fans who he’s given so much.
Leon McSweeney, Pundit Arena