Wayne Rooney‘s one-off return for the English national team has caused plenty of uproar but the Three Lions legend is focused on one thing: saying thanks.
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Rooney, 33, will make his 120th and final appearance for England against the U.S. men’s national team at Wembley on Thursday, in a fixture renamed the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” as he is expected to come on as a second half sub.
A year after announcing his retirement from the international game (as England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals), Rooney has been granted an opportunity to say thanks to the England fans by current boss Gareth Southgate and the FA.
Speaking to reporters from England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday, the current D.C. United striker believes this will be the perfect chance for him to say goodbye and he will wear the captains armband with pride if the opportunity arrives.
“I only knew it was going to happen a couple of weeks ago. Whether or not I would take part it was not confirmed but once we spoke with Gareth Southgate and the FA we felt it was the right game to do it and it’ll be a special moment,” Rooney said. “We both came to an understanding and we both felt the best thing was to take part. It will be my last game. My form has been good in the States and if I got called up because of that then it would be a different situation, but this will be my last game. If Harry Kane handed over the captain’s armband then great but the important thing is not wearing the armband, wearing number 10 or playing 90 minutes, it is to pull the shirt on again and that will be a special moment.”
Whatever your stance on Rooney’s return to action for England and whether or not it diminishes the value of a cap or this friendly altogether, you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve a special sendoff. Many suggest he’s blocking the pathway for young talent, while others believe it is a nice gesture from the FA to honor his legendary 13-year England career.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The most important thing is, speaking to the FA, we thought it was right, and the players I’ve spoken to think it’s right,” Rooney said. “As a country we haven’t done anything like this before but I hope that in 10-15 years’ time we’re doing it for someone like Harry Kane, who could go on to get the goalscoring record.”
With his retirement coming over 12 months ago, Rooney explained that the FA have been talking to him about some sort of farewell for a while but a viable solution wasn’t found ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
“We were speaking with the FA. We had stayed in contact, we have had the idea for 12 months. We were going to do a game before the World Cup but it was not the right timing,” Rooney said. “The players were preparing for the biggest tournament in football. Personally I didn’t think it was right to get in the way of that. We both felt it was right now though.”
Reports suggest an extra 20,000 tickets have been sold for the match against the USMNT since Rooney’s return was confirmed, but it does feel like having him on the pitch to collect some sort of trophy and then maybe going on a lap of honor before the game would have been more fitting.
The fact he still plays at a high level and was in the Premier League and in England squads last season, plus had great success in his first few months at D.C. United, makes this situation a little different and a little more complex.
Yet due to England not taking this friendly with the USMNT that seriously — they play Croatia in a crucial UEFA Nations League game on Sunday — this opportunity for Rooney to say farewell has presented itself.
Rooney has shown this season, his debut campaign in Major League Soccer, that he can still score goals and impact games and who would bet against him jumping off the bench and scoring one more time for England? The odds on him to score at any time against the country where he currently plays his club soccer stand at around 21/20 with the UK bookmakers.
There is one more opportunity for Rooney to make a name for himself on home soil, but he claims he isn’t interested in scoring one last time.
“It’s not important,” Rooney said. “It’d be nice, but the main thing is to run out at Wembley one last time and have the opportunity to thank the fans for the years they’ve supported me.”