Superlatives are exhausted in soccer, and in sports overall. So let us winkingly introduce another: We might never see a player like Wayne Rooney again.
Oh that’s hardly a roundly complimentary assertion. There are some not-so-pretty moments of Rooney’s professional career that will be addressed in this space.
But with respect to the man — admittedly penned by a pundit of so-so looks and comportment — he is not the image of a traditional attacking footballer.
There have been short strikers. There have been stalky strikers. There have been fast strikers. There have been elite strikers who might not be able to ride roller coasters at some amusement parks in the United States.
The Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, the only man in front of Rooney in that regard, is Alan Shearer, a 6-foot specimen who you’d instantly recognize as a prototypical No. 9. For all his awkwardness, the current England No. 9, Harry Kane, is tall and strong and eminently skilled.
That was never really Rooney. His speed is underrated, his strength undeniable, his ability in the air deceptive. Yet there he ascended, as a British bulldog if there ever was one, to a starring role with childhood club Everton as a 16-year-old debutant in 2002 and the youngest player to ever play for England in 2003.
His personality was almost instantly divisive. “Hot-headed” would not be an unfair reading of his demeanor on the pitch. “Foul-mouthed” and “aggressive” and the like wouldn’t be, either.
That sort of extended off the field, too. He put in a transfer request at just 18 years old, despite Everton offering him over $60,000 a week in wages. Ultimately he was sold to Manchester United, the premier club of the Premier League, and the perfect face of world soccer’s ultimate villain at the time.
Which is no real slight. At the time of his signing, Arsenal was at its peak under Arsene Wenger, and Chelsea was dawning in eminence under Jose Mourinho. United needed players like Rooney, who would throw away the kid gloves and pursue winning at all costs.
So what happened? Five Premier League titles, one Champions League crown, another two Champions League final appearances, four League Cups and an FA Cup title later, you tell us.
His bike against City in the Manchester Derby in 2011 was voted the top goal of the first two decades of England’s new cash-flush top flight. His finish in the Champions League final that same year was as clean as you could ever see.
Unfortunately for Rooney, his unceasing prevalence wasn’t limited to soccer stadiums. He was embroiled in a spat with an agent early in his career. He was sued by his old Everton manager David Moyes (who ironically assumed an ignominious tenure as Manchester United’s replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson) over unkind autobiography words in 2006. He drove drunk last year.
He was accused of infidelity while his wife Coleen was five months pregnant, which is not acceptable behavior by any means. But he was never convicted outside of the tabloids, and Coleen and he are still married to this day with four sons. He was even falsely accused of assaulting her, with the $100K he won in libel damages going to charity.
Maybe that’s the ultimate takeaway with Wayne Rooney. No, he’s not perfect. Yes, he’s abrasive. No, he’s not a model citizen. Yes, he’s polarizing.
But how much of that do we thrust on him, as fans and commentators? How much of the reality pie graph is things Rooney has actually done wrong, and how much remaining is just how we read it?
Well, his send-off match on Thursday, a 3-0 win against the United States in which he didn’t score but received a swell of adoration despite early protestations last week, might tell us a bit about that. As will his well-received time stateside with D.C. United.
He could play anywhere in the setup for club and country in the attacking third. He’s the all-time leading scorer for England’s most successful club. He’s also England’s all-time leading scorer, and made the most outfield appearances of any player, second only in overall appearances to hallowed goalkeeper Peter Shilton. He’s the only English player, after former teammate Michael Carrick, to have won the EPL, FA Cup, Champions League, League Cup, Europa League and FIFA Club World Cup.
We’ll do you one better. He made the absolute most out of his limitations. Roo is an athlete for the undistinguished, the undergifted, maybe even the underprivileged.
More kids are going to kick a ball and join a five-a-side and play the sport because of Wayne Rooney. No matter how they’re built or what they look like. It’s hard to find much fault in that.