How the World Cup passed Rooney by

Darren Richman  |  21st June 2018

For the first time in a decade or more, there is a good feeling around the England team. The word from the camp is positive and there is a sense that Gareth Southgate’s squad has a togetherness that has been absent in recent tournaments. The players don’t seem to have the arrogance or cliques that came to define the laughably named “golden generation” and the hopes of the nation, for once, don’t rest on the shoulders of one young player.

In 1990, that player was Paul Gascoigne. While much of the world looks back on Italia ‘90 as a cynical, low-scoring tournament that necessitated major rule changes, in England it is remembered fondly. A large part of that is down to “Gazza”, a thrilling young player whose tears came to define a summer and change the view of the sport in this country. Bobby Robson comforted the youngster at the end of that semi-final defeat to West Germany by telling him he’d play in other World Cups but, poignantly, that was one the great man got wrong.

14 years later, Wayne Rooney burst onto the international scene with his similarly invigorating performances at Euro 2004. Unquestionably the most exciting English player since Gascoigne, not for nothing was he nicknamed “Wazza”. England, naturally, crashed out on penalties but there was a sense that this was just the start for the man on the verge of joining Manchester United. Unlike Gascoigne, Rooney would play in more than one World Cup but it’s hard to imagine he looks on the tournaments with much fondness.

United have eleven players at the World Cup, for the latest odds on how their nations will perform head to RedArmyBet.com

In 2006, Rooney got injured at Chelsea in late April, fracturing a metatarsal and worrying even the home fans. Six weeks later, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side edged past Paraguay in their opening game but the United man played no part. In the second match, with the team struggling to break down a stubborn Trinidad and Tobago, he was introduced but did very little as England laboured to a 2-0 win. Against Sweden, in the final group game, he started but was substituted on 69 minutes. He lasted the full 90 against Ecuador in the second round but proved ineffective before being sent off for a foolish stamp on Ricardo Carvalho against Portugal that led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink and thousands of column inches.

In 2010, England and their talisman were abysmal in the group and their atrocious performance against Algeria culminated in the jeers of the England fans and Rooney staring down the camera lens and angrily stating, “Nice to see your own fans booing you.” Fabio Capello’s team were humiliated by Germany in the second round and Rooney went home, once again, without having scored at the World Cup.

The record goalscorer for Manchester United and England finally got a World Cup goal in 2014 but it came in a defeat to Uruguay as England were eliminated before they’d even played their final group game. While fellow United legend George Best is often considered one of the best players never to play at a World Cup, Rooney made a number of appearances but, for one reason or another, struggled to find form. He announced his international retirement in August 2017 and, as with Gascoigne, there remains the sense that things should have been so different.

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Follow Darren on Twitter: @darrenrichman

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