Photo credit @ TheMirror.co.uk
In life, you need heroes and villains. Batman needs the Joker, Stone Cold needed Vince McMahon, Spankbang needs Xhamster. And it seems England fans need Wayne Rooney. But why? The simple answer is people love hating things. A way to focus all our anger and unhappiness onto a physical form, to take feelings which are so hard to understand and simplify them into cheers and boos, a sort of pressure release valve that prevents internal combustion. Or perhaps people just like to shout the words “you fat wanker” after four pints of Stella. Wayne Rooney is a man who walks the line between hero and villain on a daily basis. And it’s more complicated than just saying he looks like Shrek.
Wayne is the captain of England, and of Manchester United. He has been the biggest star in English football for longer than Youtube has been around. He is only three goals away from breaking Bobby Charlton’s all time goalscoring record at the club. He has graced the cover of everything from FIFA to, uh, Hello Magazine. Yet during the recent international game against Malta, he was voraciously booed and heckled by the crowd. His own fans. This is not an unusual occurrence. Rooney has been the subject of intense vitriol for years, particularly while representing his national team. Perhaps because Rooney long ago stopped being seen as an individual and instead become a symbol for English football as a whole.
Rooney’s outrageous talent is undeniable, it has been evident since he first burst onto the scene as a 16 year old when he scored an absolute blooter against an Arsenal during the height of Wengermania (soon to return when he wins the league this year). Many incredible moments and achievements have followed. Hat tricks, overhead kicks, golden boots, player of the year awards have stacked up like jars of Bovril in a Glasgow charity shop. But despite all of this, for many English fans Rooney represents the lost promise of international glory. A player who despite all his talents, has failed to deliver when it mattered most. Not counting the 2004 euros of course because that would go against te narrative.
Gerard, Lampard, Campbell, Beckham, Cole, Terry, Scholes… Nugent… With players like these, the fact England have consistently failed at international tournaments is a source of much bitterness for fans. These are the people that we were told are the best in the world every week by Sky, and we believed them, because why wouldn’t you? The Premier League is THE BEST LEAGUE IN DA WORLD. As the domestic game grows in popularity worldwide and the wages continue to skyrocket, the national team has floundered. Wayne is the perfect representation of that. A global star whose personal life and wage packet often overshadow his performances on the pitch. He is perceived as a primma donna by many. A spoiled child. Everything that is wrong with the modern game. The fact he plays for Manchester United doesn’t help him. The only team more popular is Anyone But United. Rooney has also gained a reputation as “undroppable”. Someone who will always be included by a manager despite any run of poor form or controversy. But times are changing.
Tonight, Wayne Rooney will be benched by England manager Gareth Southgate for the game against Slovenia, despite being captain of the team. He has recently found himself benched by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. To his credit he has handled it professionally, but now in his 30s and facing a decline in form, there is a feeling the Rooney saga may be coming to an end. But what do English fan do when he leaves? Is he the last remaining relic of a past era, and will they temper expectations for the next generation? Unlikely. The feeling of “England Expects” is ingrained in their culture now. I hope Marcus Rashford has thick skin.
In life, you need heroes and villains. Some will argue Wayne never dealt with the pressure well, but who could? He has produced moments of magic and is adored by millions, while simultaneously being hated in equal measure, sometimes by the same fans depending on what shirt he is wearing. He is a symbol of the failure of English football (tantrums, gossip and losing to the Germans), and of its success (fame, fortune and hair implants). He is hero, and he is the villain, sometimes within the same 90 minutes. Why do we love to hate him? If he lacked talent, he would not be so despised. It is hard to imagine 80k home fans booing Nathan Dyer. But then again, Dyer would never have the expectancy that surrounds Rooney, because Nathan Dyer is shite. A strange situation. But then again, English football is strange. Why do England fans need Wayne Rooney? Maybe because it’s easier to blame a talented player for not performing than to blame the thousands of players who couldn’t lace his boots for never having talent at all. Maybe it’s because Rooney is a lightning rod for all the feelings of failure and disappointment an entire generation of young men have, and anger at institutions they believe have betrayed them, men who look with weary eyes at their own lives the same way they look at the English team’s unrealized potential and think “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”. Or maybe just because he looks like Shrek. Who knows.