England over Rooney, but is his era over?

Date published: Monday 28th March 2016 1:40

There is nothing like an excellent England performance to lift your heart and give you a tingle in your loins. Despite the fact that we’re all so wrapped up in very post-modern, knee-jerk cynicism, in order to not end up on the side of tabloid jingoism and phone-in dumb f**kery, we should not be reacting in any other way other than to click our heels and make a big goofy thumbs-up gesture.

And if you think you’re being the cool kid to point out that this was only a friendly and we never do any good in tournaments and it’ll all turn to sh*t soon enough, then you’re really not cool at all. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of positivity. It’s a joyless existence to never fall in love, just to make sure no-one ever hurts your feelings.

Having seen England win the World Cup in my first year conscious of football, I reckon to have seen at least 80% of England’s games ever since and almost none of them have been any good. You can count on two hands, not just great games, but good games. Saturday was one of those. Yippee.

Yet despite the great performance it quickly all became about someone who wasn’t even there. Mr Wayne Rooney. It seems that even when he’s not involved, he’s somehow involved.

When, in the second half, England really got after Germany, with Jamie Vardy running them down like a terrier chasing rats out of a barn, there must have been a wave of people watching thinking “I’m so glad Wayne isn’t playing, he’d be holding them all back”. It was on the collective mind. Commentators mentioned it. “Where does he fit into this team?” And after the game it was soon an issue for discussion quickly moving from “should Roy pick him?” to “should Roy bench him?” to “should Roy take him?” to “are you insane? He’s rubbish”.

The eagerness to write Wayne off was so palpable that by the end of it all, it was as if he was a dead weight weighing the nation down and the suggestion of his inclusion this summer was a filthy insult to our collective intelligence.

Somehow, the excellent pressing performance became a liberation from the yolk of Rooneyism. But this wasn’t just about football. It somehow never can be, with Wayne. This slamming of him is not merely rooted in his football skills, but of everything that he has come to represent, consciously or subconsciously, however unfairly you may or may not think that is.

The overweight, over-monied, over-exposed, over-privileged, over-rated, over-stated, over-vaunted, over-bearing, over-commercialised, over-an-injury. Somehow, everything Wayne has always been about is being over something, and somewhere deep down in our soul we want all that to be over.

This goes some way to explaining the emotion that swirls around his name. More than perhaps any other modern player, his stats tell one story, our own eyes tell another and maybe our hearts say something else.

Our first reaction should have been to celebrate the confident, energetic and progressive players who pulled back a two-goal deficit. And that was true for at least a few seconds after the final whistle, but the lack of Wayne cannot go ignored because so many fans have been so regularly dismayed at what they see when he’s on the pitch, and then so furious that he continues not just to be picked, but to be vaunted as England’s best player.

Those people have been eagerly awaiting this moment. For many it feels like they’ve had the pish taken out of them for years, having been told how great this player is and yet rarely seeing him play a great game. For a lot of fans this has hardened into a psychosis and Wayne has become an incubus squatting on the corpse of English football, draining it of vitality and growing fat on its sweet goodness.

A 30-year-old injured player who struggles with fitness and who hasn’t played well for an extended period of time not being picked for England shouldn’t be a big issue. But it is, not because of the player Rooney is, but much more because of who he is as a person.

He’s had a few purple patches in his career, but so do many players without being acclaimed so mightily, for so long, and especially when those good times are outnumbered by the barren spells of bouncy-off-foot-haplessness. Yet somehow, by being a talented working-class kid from the wrong side of tracks, a throwback to whichever olden days you’re addicted to, he became elevated to superstar without, in the long run, the chops to justify it and those who thought this was obvious have spent ten years looking on in amazement, feeling all around them are hypnotised by Wayne and wondering why all the rubbish football was ignored and the first glimpse of good football welcomed as though it is unparalleled brilliance.

To so many England observers this has been infuriating and this is at the root of the quick passion for sticking it to him now, when England look like a decent side without him being anywhere near the squad.

You can say it’s unfair on him, but then earning 300k a week is unfair and many feel it is little more than an immoral return for playing football, so perhaps some degree of unfairness is to be expected in our attitude towards him.

No-one will feel emotional one way or another when James Milner plays his last game for England, no-one will boo or cheer when Gary Cahill doesn’t get picked anymore. But this weekend we saw all too clearly how delighted a lot will be when Wayne is finished with England. Many clearly hope we have already reached that point.

John Nicholson

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