Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Why Blame Wayne?

Did England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate drop Wayne Rooney from last night's Slovenia game because of the booing he had been subjected to by some of the crowd during the 2-0 victory over Malta? Probably only Southgate can answer that question, but it surely didn't help his cause as he closes in on Peter Shilton's all-time England caps record.

Booing someone other than the officials or the opposition is usually reserved for managers, most notably Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean, who endured months of torrid abuse from the Rovers fans, unhappy at their team's poor form that saw them relegated from the Premier League in 2012.

However, Rooney isn't the only England player to be booed by England fans. John Barnes' every touch was given the same treatment during a 1994 World Cup qualifier against San Marino, although that might have been in part due to a newspaper report that he supported the West Indies cricket team rather than England.

What then do England fans have against Rooney? He's represented his country 118 times, and his 53 goals make him England's record goalscorer. He's always given 100% in an England shirt, even if the execution hasn't always been there. Surely supporters should appreciate his contribution and patriotism rather than giving him abuse.

Perhaps though it's a matter of unfulfilled promise. When he broke into the England side as a 17 year old in 2003 he was supposed to be England's world-beater, the hugely talented youngster who could spearhead England to long overdue tournament success. Remember the front page headlines as he battled for fitness in the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup, and the outcry when, having recovered in time for the tournament he was sent off in the quarter final against Portugal? It was Ronaldo who was booed the following season for his wink as his club-mate Rooney was red-carded, not Rooney. England had been hard-done-by, as they had been against Germany and Argentina in the past, but from there on it was pure underachievement rather than bad luck that saw England struggle in tournaments. They failed to qualify for Euro 2008, were thrashed by the Germans in 2010, were outclassed by Italy in 2012 and were dreadful in 2014 and 2016.

Instead of making England serious contenders, Rooney's time playing for England coincided with a period of frustration and failure. Whilst that can't be blamed solely on Rooney, it seems that until he leaves the England set-up the memories of all those World Cup and European Championship failures can't go away, effectively making him the scapegoat.

It's a far cry from the adulation he enjoyed when he first broke into the side, when it would have been inconceivable to see the fans turn on him in the way many have. However, no-one could have predicted that David Beckham would end his career as a national treasure after his World Cup red card in 1998 led to effigies of him being burned in the streets.

Beckham was able to turn it around, but can Rooney? Unless Southgate or his successor have a change of heart, he might not get the chance.