Rooney not cut out to be England captain
October 12, 2012 in International
Wayne Rooney was yesterday named as England captain for tonight’s clash against San Marino. The reaction to the decision was largely positive, with Rooney undoubtedly England’s most talented and essential player, and now a senior figure in the squad, particularly with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard absentees. There has also been a sense that the decision to hand Rooney the armband is rather unimportant; San Marino are unlikely to offer much resistance to an England win, and it is likely that one, if not both, of Gerrard and Lampard will be back in the side for the sterner test against Poland next week. Rooney as captain is therefore likely to be a one-off and a bit of a token gesture – a pat on the back. Smart man-management by Hodgson then, who like every England manager since Sven-Goran Eriksson, has come to the very obvious realisation that Rooney is England’s star player and crucial to their success.
Rooney is England’s 3rd choice captain, then. No big deal, no massive honour, no great responsibility. However, I think in picking Rooney over Joe Hart, Hodgson has set a precedent which he may one day have to go back on. Gerrard and Lampard are both ageing and on the wane; though still very capable, they are not as reliable as they once were. Inconsistent performances and injuries are the natural order in the 30+ club. It is not at all inconceivable that going into the World Cup in Brazil, neither Gerrard or Lampard will be guaranteed starters in the side. Rooney, it is almost certain, will be. So how does, Wayne Rooney, England Captain, Brazil 2014 sound? It sound pretty damn risky to me.
Rooney claims to have matured, to have grown up, and Hodgson agrees, as do many in the press. But that assumption is purely fictitious because all of the evidence suggests that Rooney is as irresponsible as ever. Calmer he may be, married with kid(s) and a senior player and mentor to players in the England and Manchester United squad alike, yet Rooney still hasn’t kicked the habit of letting those around him down. Rooney, contrary to popular belief, was magnificent last season. His consistency in goalscoring (some very important goals too) and leadership led a youthful and injury-hit Manchester United side to the tightest Premier League finish yet. It wasn’t a season full of clips for the highlight reel, but Rooney was the ever-present for an up-and-down Manchester United. By this stage, Rooney had already let his country (and himself) down by inexplicably getting himself sent off and earning himself a two-match ban for the Euro 2012 group stage. But the opportunity for redemption awaited him.
Yet Rooney did what Rooney always does, he got complacent. With the knowledge that he would miss England’s two opening games at the tournament, Hodgson gave Rooney a break and the opportunity to take sometime off before he joined up with the England squad in the hope that Rooney would be fresh, raring to go and be the extra impetus England would surely need in the knock out rounds. Rooney, however, did not retain focus; he jetted off to the States for two weeks, and when he eventually took to the pitch in Poland/Ukraine, he was overweight, slow, and lacking of touch. His performances were widely condemned, as Wayne Rooney had once again failed to shine for England at a summer tournament. Focus switched back to Manchester United, or did it? For Rooney was stateside again for another holiday, just weeks after his original break, and when Rooney returned for Manchester United, he was even more overweight, even slower, and even more lacking of touch than he had been for England in the summer. So focused and committed just three months prior, Rooney had taken his eye off the ball.
Rooney’s focus had shifted. He had grown comfortable and complacent and began to believe his own hype. Some players never lose that focus – when they’re on the up, they raise the bar even higher, demanding even more of themselves in a way Rooney could not compel himself to do. Injury took him out of the spotlight and offered the forward a chance to get his fitness back as Robin van Persie attracted the headlines. Rooney is now back and seems to be relishing the challenge, looking fit and playing well in his last three outings for United. He’s England captain now, and he will probably be a good one on Friday night and again if called upon in the weeks and months ahead. But Rooney is not trustworthy. He is an up-and-down man and most likely always will be. Retaining Rooney’s focus is close to impossible; a kick up the backside will duly result in top-class performances, but it won’t be long before Rooney is embellished, not just by his manager and fans, but by himself. And that’s when Rooney lets himself and everybody else down.
Hodgson should have taken the safer and wiser option and named Joe Hart as captain. Because when 2014 comes about, you know Hart will be as focused and disciplined against Brazil in a World Cup Final, as he will be when he lines up against San Marino at Wembley. It’s his nature, the nature of a captain, and not the nature of Wayne Rooney.