Wayne Rooney is a legend of English football. The top goalscorer for both his country and their most successful club team, he should go down in history alongside Sir Bobby Charlton as one of the finest players to grace the pitch for the Three Lions.
And yet, on the day of his retirement from international football, he departs with a sense of never having achieved what he promised when emerging on the scene as a precocious teenager at Euro 2004.
Tipped by many to go on and surpass Charlton’s international scoring record with some ease, he did just that. But the fact that only seven of his 53 strikes came in major tournaments – of which only three came after 2004 – says a lot about Rooney’s major failure as an England player. While Cristiano Ronaldo and – to an extent – Lionel Messi have led inferior players to showpiece finals, Rooney has been unable to act as the same catalyst for England when they go in search of palpable success.
Asking Rooney to, like Charlton, guide his country to a World Cup title or even a European Championship was perhaps too much to ask even with the ‘Golden Generation’ of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry around him, but the fact he will forever be associated with an era of abject failure will likely haunt him when future generations analyse his overall impact.
His 53rd and final goal for his country came in the loss to Iceland at Euro 2016. If any game could sum up Rooney’s time on the international stage it was that most humiliating last-16 encounter.
It would, of course, be harsh to lay the blame firmly at Rooney’s door. Managers have come and gone, and by either making confusing selections or unnecessarily changing tactics (or in some cases both!) failed to bring about the same success on the big stage that they have previously found in qualifying campaigns.
But as, certainly at times, by far the most talented player available, it is remiss not to believe Rooney could and should have done more to take up the mantle and lead the way on the pitch, even if silverware was beyond the squad as a whole.
Rooney had previously said that he would look to retire after the 2018 World Cup, and it seemed his move back to boyhood club Everton was an admission that his only chance to go to Russia was to step away from Manchester United and look to play more matches at the highest possible level. Having been left out by Gareth Southgate for the latter part of the 2016-17 season, time was running out for Rooney to enjoy one last hurrah.
But stepping away at the first opportunity, just as Southgate was about to offer him a route back into the fold, is a decision that will benefit Rooney the player, Everton the club and England the footballing nation.
Having worked hard to regain his fitness over the summer to make a blistering start to the campaign back at Goodison Park, it will be a bonus that he can rest during the various international breaks through the season, particularly with the Toffees fighting on four fronts this time around and him being earmarked to play a vital role.
For England, meanwhile, they can now concentrate on first qualifying for and then performing at the World Cup without the sideshow of Rooney potentially about to wave his final farewell at any moment. Instead, they can build under a new manager in Southgate and a new captain, whether that be Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane or someone else.
Though a Rooney at the top of his game would certainly aid their hopes of progression to the latter stages, the time has come for a new generation to step up and take the weight of the country on their shoulders.
Rooney can now focus his efforts solely on restoring the club he supported as a child to something close to their former glories, and he has made a good start to doing just that. If he and his team-mates are to deliver silverware back to the blue half of Merseyside, however, the 31-year-old will have to defy the pattern of his England career and ensure he is ready to make his mark on the biggest stage.