In the world of English football, there are few terms that provoke such a buzz of feverish excitement as ‘Wayne Rooney’ or ‘England Captain’. It is therefore no great surprise at the cheers as the two titles merge and the Manchester United forward is now the leader of the national team. Que nationalist fervor and hope in the Three Lions renewed.
Yet is this something we should really be applauding? Is Rooney cut out for the duties of a football team captain, even if the role is one with a very limited scope of responsibility.
If England’s cricket captain is a battlefield general — positioning his troops, adapting to situations, strike and counter-strike — then the England football captain is a sergeant, making sure everyone is carrying out orders from higher up, lots of pointing and shouting. Rooney’s immediate predecessors in the role, John Terry and Steven Gerrard, are two of the best in this respect.
Shouting at people is something Rooney has always been very good at, though it’s not generally been in a positive manner, and has tended to get him in spots of bother. One of the few duties of the captain is to talk to the referee, yet there must be some reservations at giving Rooney unfettered access. When Rooney loses his head, as he is liable to do, who calms him down? And how do the rest of the team respond if they see their captain acting in this way?
The captain is at his most important when things aren’t going well, as a rallying point on the pitch. Too often, at times like these, we have seen Rooney become frustrated. It is only fair to say that recently this frustration has not led to the disciplinary problems of old, but he can still drift out of games at vital moments.
The Manchester United forward has always enjoyed an elevated position due to his natural talent, yet this talent has not been seen in an England shirt for any sustained period. Indeed, there was serious debate over Rooney’s inclusion in the team during the World Cup, and an improved display against Uruguay did not settle the issue.
Rooney seemed unmotivated and coasting through matches before that game, almost as if his time in an England shirt was a chore he needed to get through. The forward was often anonymous during games, playing it safe with his passing and rarely taking men on. If his insipid displays resume in qualifying, will Roy Hodgson be forced to keep playing a man who isn’t meriting his place, or drop the man he chose as captain? Neither would look great for an England manager.
The idea that Rooney will instantly command the respect of the dressing room is also a pretty tenuous one. This is not a Sunday league side, this is a squad of players who play in one of the best leagues in the world, many of them alongside players who have won as much, if not more, than Rooney, and quite a few have the ego to match. Their respect will have to be earned through the way he conducts himself.
Leading successfully means leading by example. This key asset has been shared by many of those who have previously worn the armband. Gerrard, Terry, Beckham, Shearer and beyond all gave the impression that there was no greater honour than representing your country and sometimes that meant driving the team on almost singlehandedly. The hope will be that the extra responsibility will motivate Rooney in the same way, yet there is also the danger of a player who was already playing like he was undroppable having that belief confirmed.
The 28-year-old’s supporters will see this as another chapter in the forward’s ‘Roy of the Rover’s’ career, yet if Rooney’s life were a comic, it would be with the Lads Mags rather than The Tiger. In a role where many of the duties appear to be of an ambassadorial nature, would Rooney be many people’s choice of representative? The FA have already been forced to strip one recent captain of the armband for his off-the-field behaviour, it is hard to say for sure that they won’t be forced to again.
Undoubtedly Rooney has benefited from the lack of other viable options, with only Joe Hart and Gary Cahill having the relevant experience to merit consideration, and both have their drawbacks. Yet there have been auditions for the role before, and with England’s upcoming fixtures against the likes of Norway, San Marino, Estonia and Lithuania, there was surely room for a few trial runs. Passing the arm band around is not disrespecting it — it does the opposite by ensuring the right man gets the job.
Despite the limited responsibilities it represents, the captain’s armband is not just a reward for your star player. If giving Wayne Rooney the captaincy inspires him to his best for the national team, then it will rightly be seen as a masterstroke by the manager. On the other hand, if it only adds to the criticisms of his England performances, the effects on the team and Hodgson could be magnified disastrous