In a game that came a bit out of the blue, Wayne Rooney returned to the England squad for the final time to play his last game for England’s national team (again) against the USA. At a time when England have finally set on a clear direction for the future – more emphasis being placed on youth in order to build for the future and create a team that is unhindered by the mistakes of the past – the game seems to be a backwards step.
A confusing testimonial in between an historic triumph in Spain and a crucial UEFA Nations League game against Croatia certainly had the potential to upset the momentum that has been building over the last few months. Wayne Rooney earned the last of his 119 caps in a game against Scotland in November 2016, and you would have thought that a 3-0 win against a bitter home nation rival was the perfect way to call time on an England career, albeit a haphazard career in which Rooney only really shone in qualifiers.
This must surely be an admittance that friendlies mean very little.
England’s all-time leading scorer moved stateside in the summer of 2018 to join MLS strugglers DC United, whom he then helped to a remarkable turnaround that saw them finish the season in the play-off positions to qualify for the MLS Cup. Rooney’s impressive performances earned him a nomination for the league’s Most Valuable Player, and controversially a final England recall. It is far from clear who instigated the idea of the game, although it has been suggested that England manager Gareth Southgate was indeed the one who decided that Rooney deserved a final cap against the nation that he now calls home.
It is a move that has confused many fans, especially since it would not have been at all difficult to arrange a separate testimonial game for Rooney, rather than stage it during an international friendly. This must surely be an admittance that such friendlies mean very little. More importantly, the game serves to devalue earning an England cap, especially for debutants such as Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, who made his first ever appearance for the national side against the USA. Wilson has waited his whole career to represent his country, but this proud moment for him and his family has been trivialised and sidelined.
Real greats know when to step out of the spotlight.
The main beneficiary of the match was the Wayne Rooney Foundation, for which the game raised money. Rooney’s charity helps vulnerable and disadvantaged young children, which is no doubt a worthy cause. However, it does not justify pulling a player out of retirement to play an international match. Gareth Southgate risked first team players of some of the Premier League’s top sides in aid of this cause, and also wasted an opportunity to prepare for the game against Croatia, although England did beat Croatia to top their UEFA Nations League group regardless.
Yet, a friendly game against the USA was never going to be an important game for England, so perhaps it was a good opportunity to give a player that, like it or not, will go down in history for his international achievements a final farewell, and raise some money for charity along the way.
Rooney could have hosted a game with all the many legends he has played with down the years and it would have had the same value as the USA international. It also may have raised even more money for charity. He would then not have had to endure the indignity of a pretend cap and the knowledge that he was selected not purely on merit, something that his career has earned him. Wayne Rooney has had a great career, but real greats know when to step out of the spotlight.