England manager Gareth Southgate has congratulated Wayne Rooney on a “fantastic international career” after the Everton striker announced his national team retirement.
Rooney announced on Wednesday that he was ending his international career at the age of 31 after scoring 53 goals in 119 appearances.
Rooney claimed that Southgate was going to include him in his squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.
But when he phoned Rooney he instead heard that England’s all-time record goalscorer wanted to concentrate on club football.
“I know I speak for everyone when I congratulate him on a fantastic international career,” Southgate told a press conference broadcast on Sky Sports News.
Southgate added: “He said he had been thinking long and hard about the decision and he had decided he was going to announce his international retirement.
“We then talked for another half an hour about why I was calling and the possible role I saw him fulfilling because I think as a manager you always want to prod to see ‘has he thought about this decision?’.
“He clearly had and I totally understood his reasoning, moving to Everton and the fresh opportunity he has got there. He feels a sense of loyalty to the club for what they have invested in him.
“I definitely was thinking of including him in the squad. I thought there was a role that he could play for the squad but by the same token I fully understand his rationale.”
Southgate paid tribute to Rooney’s contribution to England and also gave his thoughts over the debate about his status for the national team.
“It would be a good moment to recognise what an outstanding player he has been for England,” Southgate added.
“I have seen some debate around ‘is he a legend or isn’t he?’. If you are the most capped outfield player and the record goalscorer I’m not sure what else you have to do to be called a legend.
“He’s been somebody that’s served England brilliantly and with a great deal of pride. I know this must have been a difficult decision for him.”
Southgate said if Rooney had won an international trophy he would have been regarded as a legend.
“I guess the only other thing he could do was win something internationally and if we are judging it solely on that then only the guys who won in 1966 are elevated to that status, but he’s done everything else with England, captained his country for so long.
“He has represented his country with incredible pride and has kept coming back even when there has been a lot of criticism towards him, and his level of performance has been outstanding.
“I’ve got huge respect for him. I was fortunate enough to play with him and then to manage him and throughout what was a difficult period because of the decisions I was having to make he has accepted that with incredible humility. He has been a pleasure to work with.”
Southgate left the door open for a possible Rooney return to the England squad.
“I said the door was always open and because of the way he has been playing at the beginning of the season he is in the right frame of mind, that’s why I made the call this time.
“I don’t see why you ever shut the door on anything as players.”