Joining The Debate
Ahead of the FIFA World Cup, there’s an ongoing debate about who the world’s greatest player is. Argentina’s Messi is among the most named. There are also those who root for the likes of Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo. Recently, Carlos Tevez, the Manchester City and Argentina striker, and Rooney’s former teammate at Man United, created a stir when he said that Rooney is the best he has ever played against, or alongside. In fact, Tevez categorically stated that Rooney is better than his Argentinian teammate, Messi, as well as the Portugal star striker, Christiano Ronaldo.
At 25, Rooney has over a hundred Premier League appearances and 50-plus England caps. When he turned out for Everton, against Arsenal, in his first Premier League appearance, Rooney established a record – since broken – as the youngest ever to play in the EPL. His goal scored in that match against the defending champions, Arsenal, ended Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten streak. It also made Rooney the youngest ever player to score a goal in the EPL (this record has also been bested, since).
Rooney went on to become the youngest player to earn an England cap – another record, since erased – when he played in a friendly against Australia, in 2003. He became the youngest England player to score an international goal, at Euro 2004. Rooney announced his arrival in tournament action, with a sensational showing that ended, tragically, in the quarter-final against Portugal, when he got injured and was forced to leave the field.
Blazing a Trail
Rooney has spent eight years in football, and has eight trophies to highlight his presence in the football arena, including 3 Premier League titles, and one each in the UEFA Champions League, Community Shield, and Champions Cup. The icing on the cake was the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup, in 2008.
He has no dearth of endorsements and has won countless individual prizes, capped by the 2010 PFA Players’ Player of the Year award conferred on him, in April, 2010.
Statistics don’t often tell the whole truth, but they usually give broad indications of any existing trend. In Rooney’s case, the trend, if we can call it that, has been overwhelming. Over 145 goals, from about 360 appearances in club football, point to a prolific goal-scoring ability. Rooney’s strike rate has only improved in Internationals, where his 55 England caps (as on January, 2010) have resulted in 25 goals.
Comparison with Other Star Strikers
At the beginning of this article, I spoke of Messi and Christiano Ronaldo as being preferred over Rooney, by many, as the best player in the world. How does Rooney’s goal scoring compare with these strikers’? As of January 2010, Rooney had 25 goals from 55 Internationals. Messi has 13 goals from 41 matches; Christiano Ronaldo has 22 from 67. Going farther afield, Brazil’s Kaka has 26 from 73, and Spain’s Xavi (Player of the Tournament at Euro 2008) has 8 from 82 caps. Spain’s Fernando Torres, only a year older than Rooney, and who, like the England striker, has represented his country, since 2003, has 23 from 71.
Injury was Rooney’s bane, at both the Euro 2004 and FIFA World Cup 2006 campaigns. Coincidentally, both campaigns ended at the quarter-final stage, and against the same team, Portugal, and by way of penalty kicks. While Rooney sustained an injury during the quarter-final of Euro 2004, at the FIFA World Cup 2006, he went into the tournament with an injury, and the England team management set up a special oxygen tent to help Rooney recover in time for action. Earlier, in March, this year, Rooney twisted his ankle during the EPL. He was back in action, a few weeks later, in the Champions League, where the injury recurred. All of England’s fans will be praying for Rooney’s fitness at this year’s FIFA World Cup.
One player, alone, cannot deliver victory. Where his rivals have scored over Rooney is in the quality of support they have derived from other players, in their respective squads. For instance, Xavi owed much of his success, at Euro 2008, to the support he got from teammates, Torres and Villa.
How effective Rooney is at FIFA World Cup 2010 will depend to a large extent on how well he is supported in the field by the likes of Gerrard, Crouch and Defoe.
Rooney has been in awesome form, throughout the current season. His 34 goals from 44 appearances for Man U tell their own story. Gary Lineker, himself an accomplished former striker for England, avers that England cannot win without Rooney. Alan Shearer, another England ex-striker, recommends a 4-5-1 formation, with Rooney leading the attack, alone, a strategy that Lineker also endorses.
For England to shine at this World Cup, they must treat Rooney like the jewel he is – with extreme care. On Rooney’s part, he must keep his head, and not fall prey to on-field provocations from rivals, as he so infamously did, in the World Cup 2006 quarter-final, against Portugal.
Who is the World’s Best?
Chelsea’s boss, Ancellotti, will brook no argument. Rooney is the best, he says. This, coming from a man who has been at the receiving end of Rooney’s genius in the EPL, is a telling endorsement.