Wayne Rooney’s bright performance for England at Wembley last night is vindication for the striker, who has faced some of the most vitriolic criticism of his career in recent months. The striker, who scored 34 goals last season, played a part in all four of England’s goals as Fabio Capello’s side ran out comfortable winners in London.
Rooney’s contribution to England’s 4-0 win over Bulgaria, from a deeper role than is customary when he plays for Manchester United, comes as the he develops match sharpness and fitness after injury and a lengthy summer break after the World Cup.
Indeed, while the critics wallowed in Rooney’s lengthy ‘goal drought’ few acknowledged either the serious ankle injury sustained against Bayern Munich in March or that the former Evertonian played no part in United’s pre-season programme. Rooney’s club colleagues played up to six pre-season matches; the striker only reached that figure last night.
Now injury free, fitness close to peak levels, and confident after an excellent performance at Wembley, the real Rooney can stand up, while his critics eat their words. At least that is the hope for United’s supporters.
From the wonderful chipped pass that led to England’s opening goal after three minutes, to the final ball that enabled Manchester City’s Adam Johnson to open his international account, creativity epitomised Rooney’s performance last night.
“It should be appreciated that this occasion liberated Wayne Rooney from the torpor that has overcome him since the spring,” writes the Guardian’s Kevin McCarra.
“He may not have scored, but the Manchester United attacker revelled in the freedom of the deeper role he had here and assisted, particularly, in each Defoe goal.”
So good was the striker that Sir Alex Ferguson must regret he cannot deploy Rooney in the deeper role and maintain a goal output at last season’s levels.
Not that Rooney’s media critics will evaporate; there is nothing better than the perceived failure of this generation’s best player to fill column inches in tomorrow’s chip paper.
Yet, for the most part Rooney draws positive reviews from Fleet Street’s capital-focused hacks. The Guardian, Telegraph and Independent, for example, rated Rooney eight out of 10 for the night’s efforts, with only the Sun offering a stingy seven.
Surprisingly, the country’s most popular paper waits until the 10th paragraph of its match report to mention the United striker, despite his central role in each of England’s goals. Others at least are more effusive in their praise of United’s number 10.
“There is still no question about the England player who can make almost anything seem possible with one stroke of his foot,” writes James Lawton in the Independent.
“Rooney did that when he delivered a sublime floating pass to the feet of Ashley Cole in the third minute.”
“Early in the second half his exquisite attempt to chip goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov was thwarted only by a fingertip. What could not be denied, however, was the growing reminder that Rooney’s creative powers can be exploited from pretty much anywhere he finds himself.”
Yet, sections of the Wembley crowed chose to jeer Rooney, as they had during England’s 2-1 friendly win over Hungary in August. Rarely tolerant of United players at the best of times, Wembley’s fickle supporters mirrored the country’s media in preferring to heckle rather than support England’s best through a difficult period.
No wonder Rooney’s predilection for frustration overspills more frequently in the white of the national team than at Old Trafford.
“One mistake drew boos from the crowd, but [Rooney] played a part in all four goals,” writes the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield, but “some of England’s best attacking play stemmed from his endeavours.”
The main beneficiary of Rooney’s creativity was Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defore, who grabbed the first hat-trick of a stop-start international career. Capello’s decision to deploy the United forward in a withdrawn ‘playmaker’ role, which has always suited the 24-year-old’s sublime skills, fully justified in the thumping result.
No wonder that the former West Ham United and Portsmouth player saved his praise for Rooney.
“When you play with a new partner it can take a bit of time for it to gel but Wayne’s a great player to play alongside,” said Defoe.
“He works so hard for you and, if you make the runs, he will find you. After I scored my second he said: ‘Now go and try to get your third.’ To have that from someone playing with you is fantastic.”
Even if the nation’s media is sometimes reluctant to swallow previously over-zealous criticism, then his colleagues more than make up for it.