When it comes to the announcement that Wayne Rooney will make a one-off return to the England national team for the friendly at Wembley against the USA on Nov. 15, opinions are pretty much split right down the middle.
Many say this is a fitting end to Rooney’s international career, as he will be given a proper send-off as he wins his 120th and final cap and the all-time record goalscorer will be able to say a final farewell to the Three Lions fans at Wembley. The game will also be named the Wayne Rooney Foundation International, with the proceeds from the game given to the charities he supports. Who can argue against that?
On the other hand, many say this not only undermines the fixture against the USMNT but also current England boss Gareth Southgate.
Remember: Rooney, 33, retired from the English national team in August 2017 when he was left out of a few squads despite being told he still had a role to play as Southgate looked at younger options. With his career generally on a downward curve, Rooney then left the national team without a proper goodbye as the most-capped outfield player in Three Lions history was done. To hammer home the fact that the decisions made by Southgate and Rooney were the correct ones, England reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup with a young, hungry side impressing.
That achievement surpassed any tournament finish Rooney had during his England career as penalty kick and quarterfinal heartache came time and time again for the Manchester United legend. Yet you could never question his commitment to England’s cause and, in truth, at times it seemed as though he cared too much and had the weight of the world on his shoulders due to the huge expectations.
“I am truly humbled and hugely excited to play for England at Wembley again,” Rooney said. “I would like to thank Gareth Southgate and The FA for inviting me back and helping to support my foundation in the process. Playing for England was the greatest honor of my career, so winning my 120th – and final – cap will be a particularly special moment for me. It’s fitting that the match will be against the USA and I hope that both sets of fans enjoy the game.”
But what about this specific game against the U.S. men’s national team?
The young USMNT players will still be given a proper test against the no.5 ranked team on the planet, Rooney or no Rooney, with the D.C. United star expected to start the game but it is unclear how long he will actually play. After all, he’s not exactly about to pick up his pension and many of his American opponents will know that.
Rooney just ripped it up in MLS over the past few months (save your jokes about a retirement league for another time, please), scoring 12 times and assisting on six more to lead D.C. United from last place in the Eastern Conference to the playoffs in the 19 games he played. He still has a contract in MLS through the end of the 2021 season, but there is no suggestion that this comeback is anything other than a glitzy farewell.
Does Rooney’s 120th and final cap suggest that England aren’t taking this friendly against the USA that seriously? Absolutely. From a true sporting perspective this shouldn’t be happening and with U.S. Soccer billing this friendly as a huge deal, their counterparts aren’t exactly doing the same as they’ve now moved the goalposts slightly. It already has a testimonial feel rather than being a true test in a hostile environment for a young, developing USMNT side. But with some mocking Rooney’s return and suggesting Gary Lineker and others should get a run out too, that is so far from the truth. Rooney could impact this game and play a full 90 minutes if need be.
Rooney played for England for 13 years and it was due to his decision to retire that he didn’t get a proper farewell game. Southgate and England moved on from Rooney quickly and Harry Kane emerged as their leading striker, along with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling.
There is a lot to be said about Rooney’s appearance blocking minutes for young England players coming through but, in truth, Kane will just be getting a much-needed rest ahead of England’s big UEFA Nations League decider against Croatia at Wembley on Nov. 18 and Southgate will not risk another forward being injured. And without Jamie Vardy, who recently retired, England don’t have a lot of options up top anyway.
England will likely play many of their squad players against the USMNT with Southgate’s focus firmly on the game against Croatia. That means that any debate about this is a little overblown as Rooney truly deserves a special farewell. If Rooney playing a few minutes at the start of the game is what Southgate and the FA want to do rather than him being honored and clapped on the pitch as he picks up a plaque before the game then walking off, so be it.
This is all very similar to the Landon Donovan situation in October 2014, as he played in a friendly against Ecuador after being ousted by Jurgen Klinsmann. Yet that game was organized exclusively to honor Donovan and we knew what it was going into the match. In Rooney’s case, it is quite clear he decided to walk before he was pushed out by Southgate, so again this slightly undermines the England manager who has done so much to restore pride in the national team over the past 12 months since he took charge.
We have to remember that friendly games are little more than glorified training matches these days and this farewell for Rooney will give England’s game against the U.S. something extra special.
But there’s no doubting this farewell does suggest that England are undermining the visit of the Stars and Stripes later this month.