Wayne Rooney comment: Manchester United and England captain was the last of the street footballers... but that is sadly long gone

COMMENT: The best of Rooney is in the past

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The Independent Online

The speech was more sweet than Agincourt, touching in tone and message, and also in the awkwardness of its delivery. It is not easy standing before your peers in a testosterone boys club that is a football changing room. Rooney was dropped right in it in a playful sense by his coach Roy Hodgson shouting “speech, speech”, and his team-mates would have revelled in his discomfort but he scrambled a decent response that took courage to execute.

It is entirely right to acclaim Rooney, arguably the last of England’s great street footballers. It was interesting how Rooney’s 50-goal England landmark met with some negativity in the radio-sphere with callers to BBC Radio 5Live expressing frustration with a state of the game that no longer sees players going past opponents. Rooney was in a sense taking the rap for the failure of the nation to produce and harvest the wingers of old, who would drop a shoulder and take on the world.

The informal footballer is lost to us in this age of the academy child. It was bad enough for Rooney, taken off the streets at eight years old when Everton whisked him behind the walls of Bellefield. Chris Waddle advanced the argument that the best attacking players in the world are South American, where, in the absence of academy pampering in cosseted environments, footballers like Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez never lose the hunger born of poverty and privation.

When they take to the pitch they are bringing to the piece ability developed in unstructured games where the rhythm would be set by older boys trying to take lumps out of cocky upstarts. In this natural order of things the young ‘uns that survive do so by virtue of a greater desire and an acutely honed technique.

Rooney was this player in his early years as a pro, making Arsene Wenger’s eyes pop when he scored against Arsenal as a 16-year-old for Everton, lighting up the international stage in Portugal two years later and beginning his Manchester United career with a Champions League hat-trick. Rooney had already had a ten-year career behind him as a junior. It is hardly surprising therefore that he might have lost a yard of sharpness after 11 years on the Old Trafford front line.

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The old Rooney who would surge past players with power and pace is gone

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Rooney has not scored in 10 games for Manchester United

The eulogies that accompanied his surpassing of Sir Bobby Charlton’s England record contrast sharply with his Premier League reviews. Rooney has not scored in his last ten Premier League outings. In Manchester United’s most impressive spell last season, during which they beat Liverpool at Anfield and Manchester City at home, Rooney had little influence on games.

The truth is the international stage bears easier fruit. When Charlton roamed the earth international football was still the elite arena, a time when the best players assembled for their countries. In the Champions League epoch, the most powerful clubs take their pick of the world’s best players assembling club sides that carry few passengers and would see off most international teams.

Rooney’s Wembley serenade will mean little on Saturday if he fails to put some meat on the bone against Liverpool at Old Trafford. In his last engagement against Swansea he was shut out easily by Ashley Williams, wasting three opportunities he might have buried in his pomp. His only goals this season have come against sub-standard international opposition and a Bruges side in Champions League qualifying shorn of key players.

He says he has a few good years left in him. Maybe, but the best of Rooney is in the past, and his future depends on finding the net with greater frequency on Saturday afternoons in the service of United.

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