Wayne Rooney’s career was marked for stardom the moment he stepped on the football field. His goal against Arsenal, his performances for England in Euro 2004 (where he single-handedly lead a tired England to the quarterfinals) and his signing for Manchester United in the following season all seemed to point to one thing:
For England – Rooney was going to be the star for the next 10 years.
His career at Manchester United has promised greatness, but United have been in transition for the last 2 years and that has not allowed Rooney to flourish. At his best as an out-and-out striker, Rooney has been forced into wide positions for both Manchester United and England as managers chose to support leading strikers (Nistelrooy and Owen) instead of playing a straight 4-4-2.
His injury right before the World Cup hasn’t helped either, although to be fair it allowed England to play with an experimental 4-5-1 formation in training and the benefits of that are clear to see – England have a flexible strategy for dealing with the opposition (as opposed to 2002 and 2004 when they just could not deal with Scolari’s substitutions and formation changes). The only downside is that now Rooney plays as a lone striker, which means he will have to pull off a Maradona to fulfill the outrageous expectations England fans have of him.
A more pressing concern though is that of scoring goals. With Lampard…well, going Lampard, England are short of goalscorers ahead of the Saturday quarter-final clash with Portugal. Only Gerrard and Joe Cole have scored, and relying on another Beckham free kick to bail England out would be like going into a knife-fight without any weapons.
Rooney then, must answer the call. He has the temperament to perform at the biggest stage – his goal against Arsenal, Euro 2004, his debut for United in the Champions League…boy wonder has been able to pull gems out of his hat and this time, against Portugal, he’ll be looking to score his first World Cup finals goal.
The stage is set. This match is not just about England vs Portugal, or Eriksson vs Scolari. This is Rooney’s game.
A Nike ad running across England for the 2006 World Cup