The man boy turns 30 this month. To mark the anniversary and to celebrate his standing as England’s record scorer the BBC sent Gary Lineker and a camera crew through Wayne Rooney’s front door. Portraits of this kind are easy to dismiss as uncritical, saccharine pap. This is certainly celebratory and necessarily sympathetic but there is enough in the content to commend it when it airs tonight, and not necessarily the ‘through-the-keyhole’ elements that take the viewer ‘behind the scenes’.
The good stuff is all on the pitch, reminding us what an exceptional player Rooney has been. It is tempting to say was, given his alarmingly diminished displays for Manchester United of late, but I hold out for one late flowering of the genius that exploded on to the football canvas during his teenage years. What a supernova he was, the last of the England’s great urban ballers, eyes ablaze, irreverent to his boot straps, banging them in from all parts.
You wonder what chance either of his boys, Kai and Klay, have of tapping into the Scouse gene pool after the gentrification that comes with wealth and fame. Not for them a kick-about behind the Croxteth garages as Rooney did with his mates after THAT goal for Everton against Arsenal. Their informal exposure to the game comes taking pot shots at dad on the artificial turf laid out on the Rooney estate in the Cheshire burbs, hardly fecund ground for hungry, young footballers.
Kai wants to be a goalie, Rooney tells us. Must be all that jumping around on the trampoline in the garden that Rooney never had. The piece traces the Rooney evolution, glossing over the awkward misdemeanours in his personal life and building towards a beautifully sequenced finale that places him in the company of Sir Bobby Charlton. There is magic in Rooney’s humility and reverence for the old master and in Charlton’s pride at his own part in England’s football story.
It is a significant tale that, 1966 apart, has returned too much disappointment. Rooney, for all his early promise, has become part of the mystery that has seen England persistently underachieve in the international arena. The reminders of what Rooney gave us, powerfully condensed into iridescent clips of devastating finishing, beg the eternal question why in the five decades since the Bobbies Moore and Charlton conquered the world has the mother country failed to deliver a major trophy.
All those golden lads patting him on the back, Michael Owen, remember him at his peak? David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, John Terry et al, fellow men of genuine substance bordering on world class all of whom traversed the Champions League with their clubs but never came close with England.
Before that there were the sad eyes of Lineker himself, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Glen Hoddle, Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins, Tony Adams, David Seaman, Kenny Sansom, Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan, Tony Currie and Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke, talent shot through with the right stuff but doomed to fail for reasons still not satisfactorily explained or even understood.
Included in the Rooney tribute is the impromptu speech he gave in the England dressing room on the occasion of his 50th goal against Switzerland at Wembley. He hoped, he said, that there was more to come from him and England, that the national side might, on his watch, crack the code at a major championship.
Typically Roy’s boys walked the qualification process. The remaining fixtures against Estonia and Lithuania are of consequence only to statisticians. And when the summer beckons we know in our hearts that misery is the likely outcome in France. Or maybe Rooney in these mature years of reduced athleticism can rouse in the Three Lions a response commensurate with the historic role that the English have played in globalising this great game.
He says his most enjoyable moments in the service of England have come under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson, the least fulfilling under Fabio Capello. “I expected more,” said Rooney of the much decorated Italian coach. Capello brought with him the aura of expertise and sophistication that might solve the riddle of English failures. It turned out the great guru was no more able than the next coach and that the secret was… well, there isn’t one.
We know all about the lack of opportunity for young English talent, and it’s getting worse according to the latest figures, but perhaps there is still enough eloquence in Hodgson’s squad to string a meaningful footballing sentence together next summer. With a following wind and ton of luck, Rooney might yet cajole form the Sterlings, Lallanas, Walcotts, Oxlaide-Chamberlains, Sturridges, Barkleys, Kanes, Stoneses, Shaws and Wilsheres of this parish an epic response, one that might do justice to his once magnificent talent and that of the great players that have passed this way before.
It costs nowt to dream, you know, however long the shot.