It all started so promisingly. He was England’s great white hope at Euro 2004 and the nation’s youngest player to ever be capped. Twelve-years on he travels to France as captain – and a much changed player and character. So can he still have an impact? Or is his legend now bigger than the player he actually is?
There is no doubt a decorated club career has taken its toll on Rooney, nearly 400 games in the Premier League and a number of injuries have blunted his sharpness over the year and dulled the youthful enthusiasm we first fell in love with.
But he remains England’s top goal scorer of all time (albeit in an era when England have performed poorly at a succession of international tournaments) and has scored a goals for his country at an astonishing cadence (nearly one every two games).
A mixed picture, and one that makes it harder to decipher exactly what his impact will be at the European Championships. Few are predicting England have much chance of success at the tournament, but if the team are to get the best out of Rooney several truths have to be full realised:
He is not England’s best striker
In a squad containing Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy he is in fact fourth on current form. And his colleague from Man United, Marcus Rashford, may not have managed to score a dozen goals like Rooney this season, but has scored eight in half as many games.
Sturridge has also hit twelve goals this term, but we’d mark him ahead of Rooney because he’s done so in only 18 fixtures.
To put that all in perspective, Kane and Vardy have scored in 49 between them in the Premier League this season, discounting goals in other competitions.
His club form and career have peaked
He hasn’t hit over 20 goals in a season since 2011/12, in fact in the last two seasons he has barely hit double figures. His highest number of assists (17) came in the 2013/14 season, but he hasn’t managed to create half as many in either of the following two seasons.
There is a definite suspicion that Rooney’s powers are now on the wane, with his scoring for England also reaching a peak in 2014 (8).
He suits a role in the team that doesn’t exist
So we’ve established that Rooney hasn’t had a vintage season this time around, in fact he hasn’t really hit the heights as a striker for several years. But can he play a deeper role in midfield as some have suggested?
Rooney always has been a deep-lying forward that links up play, but if Hodgson persists with a 4-3-3 he is more likely to find himself in one of the wide channels supporting Kane playing through the middle.
Does playing Rooney in his best position warrant a tactical rethink?
Taking these uncomfortable truths into account, it is hard to see how Rooney can make a tournament winning impact at the European Championships. But he holds the captain’s armband, and unless injury intervenes will keep his place in the starting line-up.
Ultimately, his legend is too big for him to be dropped.
(Graphics and stats courtesy of KickOff)
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