The faux outrage from several former England players regarding Wayne Rooney’s call-up to the squad to face the USA on Thursday has been somewhat tiresome.
“It is an honour to play for England — England should not have to honour you,” Alan Shearer, who played 63 times for the Three Lions, wrote in one national newspaper.
“Does it not devalue an international cap?” one-cap striker Chris Sutton questioned on BBC Radio 5 Live.
And Peter Shilton, winner of 125 caps, posted on social media: “I don’t agree with giving Wayne Rooney a cap against USA. Caps should be given on merit!”
Shilton is right about one thing, caps should be given on merit. And we know the FA view Rooney’s return as a PR exercise and nothing more. It’s why the game is being called The Wayne Rooney Foundation International yet none of the gate receipts will be going to the striker’s charity.
However, there is strong evidence to suggest that Rooney has in fact merited a return to the England fold.
Yes, he is playing in MLS and the standard is far from the elite level of the Premier League. But Rooney’s performances for DC United transformed their season. Almost single-handedly he dragged the side from bottom of the Eastern Conference to the play-offs.
That certainly sounds like something that would merit a call-up…
The DC hero
“I’m not here to see out the last few years of my career,” Rooney said at his DC United unveiling on July 2. “I’m here to compete. I’m here to win. That’s the way I’ve always played.”
It was a bold statement from the striker, especially given the team had won just two of their 13 MLS games and were marooned at the foot of the table. Yet, in truth, he couldn’t say much else given he had agreed a two-and-a-half year contract worth $13million. A hero was required, and Rooney was an expensive one.
He was given two weeks to get match-fit after having the summer off. It was hardly ideal preparation for the 33-year-old but he was thrown into action on July 15 for the last half an hour against Vancouver Whitecaps.
United led 1-0 when Rooney was introduced. By full time they had clinched a 3-1 victory with Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer creating the third goal.
His first strike for the club came later in the month, the opener in a 2-1 win over Colorado Rapids. July had been something of a pre-season for the striker and that victory was the first time he’d played 90 minutes.
Given Rooney had spent 16 summers in English football conditioning himself to be sharp in August, the incredible form he produced from that point shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.
From August 13, the Monday after the Premier League season got underway, Rooney struck 11 goals and claimed five assists in 15 matches. In that time DC United went from bottom of Eastern Conference – 11th place – to fourth.
Ultimately Rooney’s fairytale didn’t have the perfect ending, the club were beaten on penalties by Columbus Crew in the play-off qualifying round. Yet Rooney’s impact had been marked.
“Maybe my leadership wasn’t enough in a lot of way and we needed somebody, earlier, on the field who could take the reins,” DC United manager Ben Olsen said in October.
“I think Wayne has really helped in that department, even if it’s just taking a little bit of heat off these guys and a little bit of pressure.
“His habits on the field are so contagious to some of our young guys in how to go about the game and make the right play and dig in when you need to. On both sides of the ball his habits are great and nobody else can look at that and not follow his lead.”
That certainly sounds like someone who would merit a call-up…
The England hero
The overreaction to his call-up won’t have impacted Rooney. He may have retired from international duty in 2017 but if Gareth Southgate is happy to have him in the squad for the USA clash, then that is likely to have been enough for the former Everton star.
And, as detailed above, he can return to St. George’s Park this week in the knowledge that he has outperformed the majority of his team-mates this season.
Of course, he has been playing in an inferior division but that shouldn’t lessen his achievements. The old adage of you can only beat what’s in front of you rings true.
Since August 13, Rooney has been involved in 16 goals for DC United, a tally no figure in the England squad can match.
However, he has played more minutes than the majority of players in the Three Lions squad, so let’s break his involvement down per 90 minutes.
England’s all-time top scorer has been involved in a goal every 90.6 minutes since the opening weekend of the Premier League season. Of the players called up only wonderkid Jadon Sancho (65.8 minutes) can better Rooney’s output. That alone should end the debate.
Rooney is not the player he once was. And the game against the U.S. will be his last hurrah in an England shirt. But to suggest this is nothing more than a token gesture isn’t fair given what he’s achieved in MLS.
He has earned this cap, only in a fashion many are too impertinent to accept.