When England landed in Portugal in 2004 for the European Championship, expectations were at all-time high. The likes of Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Owen were expected to be the star performers for the team which certainly had the talent required to win the competition. Little did the world know that it was a young kid of all 17 years old who would steal the spotlight.
Wayne Rooney was at that time known as a young prodigy of immense potential. At Euro 2004, Rooney was the youngest goal scorer in the history of the competition. He scored 4 goals in as many matches as England seemed to have a goal scorer who could take them all the way to the final. Unfortunately for him, he suffered an injury in the Quarter finals against Portugal and took no further part in the match. England lost to Portugal on penalties but the biggest positive out of the Euros was the discovery of Rooney.
Later that summer Manchester United bought Rooney for around 25 million pounds from Everton. While the expectations for Rooney were already extremely high, what followed next surprised even the most ardent of Rooney’s fans. He scored a hat trick against Fenerbache on his Man Utd debut. People rave about his self-confidence and skill. Destined for greatness, every fan in the world had only one question in their minds, “How good can Rooney become?”
That was 12 years ago. Today Wayne Rooney is the captain of England and Manchester United. No man has scored more goals for England than him. He is five goals short of overtaking Sir Bobby as the all-time goal scorer for Man Utd and in 250 less games to add. Do people not know this?
For the past few years, people have questioned Rooney’s place in the team be it United or even the National team. At the World Cup in Brazil, people said he did not deserve to start in the playing XI. England could only score two goals before they knocked out of the tournament, with Rooney scoring one and assisting the other. In spite of the criticism he faced this year for United, he was the second top scorer for his team and led the team to a FA Cup triumph.
Unfortunately for Rooney the weight of expectations on him have blinded the people against him. People expected him to score goals like Messi and Ronaldo something that honestly no one until has been able to do. Sir Alex once called him ‘The White Pele’ which again led to more hype and expectation from Rooney.
People don’t hope for Rooney to perform on the big stage. They demand it. And that is where the issue lies. For all his great qualities, Wayne Rooney has yet to truly own the big stage like he did when he was 17 in Portugal. He has score once in three Champions League finals and only once in both in World Cups and Euros after 2004. Neither of these goals really proved to be of any significance and for that he is always criticized.
He gets more respect from around the world than he does from his own fans. Messi called him an unbelievable footballer who he would love to play with. Ronaldo has often attributed Rooney for his own success in Manchester. Arsene Wenger had called him his favorite English player of all time. Even Zlatan has called him a player of the highest caliber and one with whom he would like to play with.
For all the praise that he gets from the world, Rooney knows that he has to win something with England to be truly considered a great in the English eyes. So while all the attention will be on Kane, Vardy and Dele Ali this summer be rest assured that if England has to lift the trophy in France, Wayne Rooney will be at the heart of it.
It might just be his last chance to achieve greatness.