by Roy Dalley.
Wayne Rooney has been calling himself England’s “Big Man” since he arrived late at the 2006 World Cup, clutching a note from his doctor declaring himself fit for duty. We all know how that worked out…
A new chapter begins in an international career that has so far brought 95 caps, 41 goals, and not much else apart from a few red cards and the odd broken metatarsal. Rooney has been awarded the captaincy he long cherished a month before his 29th birthday, and is saying all the right things as he looks ahead to the challenge.
Coupled with his appointment as new skipper at Manchester United there is no doubt Rooney’s chest will be even more barrel-like as he leads England into the forthcoming qualifier against Switzerland.
But he will do well to compartmentalise his pride, for the Big Man has taken on a Big Job, and the next two years may well show us once and for all what sort of stuff he’s made of.
Alistair Cook knows only too well of the pressures both mind and body suffer in such a lofty environment. Well, you can probably multiply the weight of hope and expectation Rooney will carry onto the pitch as the eyes of a nation burn into him.
He’s already getting it in the neck from former England and United right-back Paul Parker, whose scathing critique of Rooney’s early performances as United captain rivalled a spell under Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer in their venom. Views probably shared by many football watchers from Old Trafford to Wembley who reckon he shouldn’t be in their teams, never mind leading them out.
It will be fascinating finding out if Rooney can hold his nerve as the immortality he seeks appears on the horizon. Granted, United won’t win much more for a while… they’ve only effectively got the FA Cup and a top four place to play for over the next nine long months, for example.
But by the time of the European Championship Finals in 2016 Rooney might not just be captain of club and country, but their respective record goalscorers too. Something to tell the grandkids I daresay?
Who knows, a Knighthood may even be in the beckoning. Sir Bobby Charlton is the one currently holding those particular aces, scoring 49 for England and 249 for United. Rooney needs 9 and 33 respectively to surpass Wor Bobby, easily attainable in two seasons one would have thought?
Only problem is will he play every week, even if he avoids injury? Certainly Ross Barkley will be eager to add his name to the challengers for his place in Roy Hodgson’s team once he returns to fitness. And Radamel Falcao’s arrival in English football has already got Rooney on the retreat as he speaks of a more deeper-lying role in the years ahead.
Perhaps it may be so. Perhaps he will look to Andrea Pirlo for inspiration as he contemplates his 30’s. Or perhaps will he end up crying in his pillow? It’s time to find out…