Former Manchester United captain turned pundit Gary Neville described his former teammate Wayne Rooney as “a wonderful player, one that is at his best when he's like the street kid; fighting for every ball, taking every free kick, every throw-in, tackling and heading, fighting to win."
Talking to BBC Radio 5, Neville proclaimed that the potential for Wayne Rooney to improve is enormous. “At the age of 26, you always have to think that there's more to come. . . . We need to see Wayne Rooney improve and he needs to see himself improve,” Neville stated.
Captain of England
Recently, Rooney was christened as the captain of England in their 5–0 win over San Marino. During the game, he was technically proficient and showed formidable mental strength in only his second outing as a captain—having captained England once before in a friendly against Brazil. He also found the back of the net on two separate occasions on Friday, dispelling all notions that such responsibility might detract from his qualities.
Current England manager Roy Hodgson said:
He was my vice-captain at the Euros from the moment he could start playing again. He does take playing for England unbelievably seriously. I know being captain is something he’s very proud of and something he wants to do. Frank Lampard has captained the team when both Steven and Wayne were absent. But I always had in my mind that Wayne would be the vice-captain and when Frank comes back I suppose I’ve got a decision to make.
Maturity and Experience
With key players of England’s golden generation aging—players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole—only Rooney and Joe Hart, in my opinion, represent feasible candidates to take over the armband.
Hart has established himself as one of the best keepers in the world, and if you need proof, look no further than his standout performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
And many a goalkeepers have made excellent captains—Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon being two prime examples.
However, if you factor in Rooney’s experience and growth, he is a more prime candidate than Hart. Simply put, Rooney has been around for much longer and has much more experience at both the club and country levels. Compare Hart’s 26 appearances to Rooney’s 78.
Obviously, the most significant question is whether Rooney has outgrown his former self. It was only a while ago that he earned himself a red card for an unnecessary kick on Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic. The card earned him a two-game suspension which led to him missing the opening two games of Euro 2012.
Reflecting back, Rooney claims, “That was a stupid thing to do. I regretted it the moment I did it. I apologised to the players and paid the price. That won't happen again.”
Such a confession displays maturity.
Several pundits, players and managers alike have suggested that Rooney is indeed less susceptible to bouts of madness that characterized his early career.
"If you have seen my performances after that at club level you will have seen the difference. I have cut out a lot of the silly tackles and silly mistakes I made as a young lad."
Indeed, the United talisman has matured tremendously.
Let this quote sink in for a moment: “It was partly to do with my own performance. I was partly looking to justify my own performance. The England fans have been great. They're always there in their thousands and since then I'm a different person and a different player. I've matured."
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs represent the last two Fergie’s Fledglings still present. But they have aged considerably and will not be around for much longer. With Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra deteriorating significantly, and Nemanja Vidic being susceptible to recurring injuries, there are few mature heads left in the team.
Michael Carrick is already 31 years old while the verdict is still out on Darren Fletcher.
Regardless though, Evra is deputizing for Nemanja Vidic and will continue to do so in the Serbian’s absence. And when Vidic returns, the armband will naturally go to him. Sir Alex Ferguson once said:
I've never been a real advocate of centre-forwards being captain. You tend to look at central defenders, midfielders or even goalkeepers who have made some great captains, like Peter Schmeichel, Edwin van der Sar and Dino Zoff.
So it might still be a little while before Rooney can become the Manchester United captain, and for now he will have to settle with shouldering the responsibility of only leading the offensive line and not the entire team at Old Trafford.
But the opportunity to be England’s captain posits a great opportunity.
When offered the English captaincy against San Marino, Rooney was overjoyed:
"This is something I'm really proud of. It's a big challenge for myself, and I'm excited. Hopefully we can cap the day off with a good victory."
Being captain means to lead by example—to limit rashness and exemplify composure.
Rooney has always thrived on having added responsibility. For example, when Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid, the creative burden was placed majorly on his shoulders. He did not disappoint. Instead, he became the talisman for United.
Extra responsibility at the national level means that Rooney will grow in stature. His maturity will grow, and he will be molded into a natural leader—leaders like Neville, Vidic and Roy Keane, leaders whom he admired and aspired to be like.
It is indeed only a matter of time before Rooney also takes on the responsibility of being the captain of United.
Sir Alex said (on Rooney captaining Manchester United):
You can see the qualities Wayne would give as a captain: his determination, hunger, desire to do well. He always tries, no matter how the team is playing. He always gives 100 per cent and these are wonderful qualities for a captain. He exemplifies the spirit of the whole team and other players can take that on board. So there are good reasons for making him captain.
And if he has been captain at the national stage for a while, the transition will be smoother. Newer players that come in and the younger players who will be introduced to the starting line-up will benefit from a strong leadership.
The armband at United is not Rooney’s yet, but the English armband can be his. If he assumes captaincy at the national stage, this benefits United in two ways: (a) Manchester United’s talisman will grow in stature and experience which will be reflected in the performances on the pitch, and (b) United will have an experienced leader to assume captaincy when players like Vidic retire or are deemed no longer fit to be the leader of the team.
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