Rather than England taking on the US in an international friendly, Thursday’s game has become a tribute testimonial to Wayne Rooney – and not everyone is happy
Paul Merson called it a farce. Harry Redknapp said it risked turning the game into a circus.
If two people who are wrong about almost everything, almost all of the time, think recalling Wayne Rooney for England’s friendly with the USA is a bad idea, it’s tempting conclude it must have some intrinsic value, but “Merse” and “H” weren’t alone.
Two-and-a-half-years after his last game for England, the pitiful defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, Rooney will make a cameo appearance on Thursday night, designed as both a farewell and a chance to raise money for his charity, the Wayne Rooney Foundation.
A number of England legends, and Chris Sutton, criticised the move, on the grounds that England caps need to be awarded on merit. Gareth Southgate said he was surprised by the backlash, but as he himself said there would be “no easy caps” barely a month ago it seems the England manager is echoing the corporate line.
It’s fair to deduce this wasn’t Southgate’s idea, but nor was it Rooney’s. The FA offered him a farewell appearance at Wembley and he accepted.
The English football authorities are in a giving mood.
This week Chelsea’s chairman Bruce Buck asked his 19 Premier League counterparts for £250,000 each so they could give chief executive Richard Scudamore a parting gift. Media organisations right now are scrambling to find someone, probably someone quite wealthy, to describe this as an entirely normal severance package.
Scudamore helped land a £5 billion tv deal so they undoubtedly think he’s worth it. What he did for Wayne Rooney is less easy to quantify. The Guardian’s Secret Footballer once claimed Scudamore had urged referees not to send off the league’s best players, on the grounds it “damaged the brand.”
Rooney’s protected Premier League life
This is one explanation for an incident in February 2005 when Rooney swore a staggering 27 times at referee Graham Poll while playing for Manchester United against Arsenal. Poll, who showed Rooney a single yellow card, later claimed this was “successful man-management,” but a chance to teach Rooney a lesson that might have altered the course of his career was wasted.
Rooney’s high watermark as an England player came in Euro 2004. He was a superb focal point, of a team full of world-class talent and David James. He terrified the French defence in the opening match and scored twice against both Switzerland and Croatia, only to break a metatarsal in the quarter-final with Portugal when England were 1-0 up.
Without him the team suddenly looked non-league and the rest of his England career was a story of failure, sometimes collective, sometimes personal, often both.
By the 2006 World Cup Rooney had moved from Everton to Manchester United and had already grown cynical.
He wasn’t the first English player to dive (or swear), but in England he got away with it. For England he didn’t. At the 2006 tournament, in another quarter-final with Portugal, Rooney was sent off for stamping on what has euphemistically been called Ricardo Carvalho’s groin, perhaps the moment when English football abandoned any remaining claims it had to football’s moral high ground.
England lost again and failed to qualify for Euro 2008. They flopped again in South Africa in 2010 and calling him England’s best player at both Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup damns him with faint praise.
Southgate gave a reasonable answer to the question of whether or not Rooney deserved a tribute never given to England players who had actually reached semi-finals. “Everybody says, ‘We didn’t do it for Bobby Moore or for Bobby Charlton’ but I don’t think any of us are particularly happy about that. So we are doing it on this occasion. And I think it’s a really nice way to pay tribute to Wayne’s career.”
Perhaps it is. Meanwhile the EPL’s whip round for Scudamore is set to earn him £5 million. Maybe they should have offered him five minutes as a sub for Jordan Henderson instead.