Why Wayne Rooney Is Under Most Pressure for England at the World Cup

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Why Wayne Rooney Is Under Most Pressure for England at the World Cup
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

He may be closing in on Sir Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record, but failure to produce the goods in Brazil when the World Cup kicks off in just a few days will mean Wayne Rooney's England legacy will forever remain incomplete.

The Manchester United striker has long been the player England have pinned their hopes on, yet when it has come to the biggest stage, he hasn't quite scaled the heights we've grown accustomed in the Premier League.

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There's always been something missing.

Injuries and fatigue have played their part, but now aged 28, this summer's World Cup has a hint of being the last chance saloon where Rooney is concerned.

Should England qualify for Russia 2018, it's difficult to imagine a 32-year-old Rooney being as vital to England's cause as he has been for so many years. It's difficult to imagine him even making the squad, or being a first-choice selection.

In his prime, Rooney's fitness has always remained a concern—his lifestyle and club commitments often taking their toll. Add to that weary legs brought on by age—and potentially more injuries—and he knows this summer is the time to make the impact every England supporter has craved.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

It's now or never.

Of the 39 goals Rooney has scored for his country, none have come in a World Cup.

At Germany 2006, then aged 21, he struggled for fitness after suffering a foot injury late in the campaign when on Manchester United duty.

With the whole of England behind him, Rooney eventually made the plane for the short trip to Bavaria, but he wasn't the same player.

His form suffered considerably as he attempted to play catch-up with his teammates and eventually Rooney's frustration was played out for the whole world to see when he stamped on Ricardo Carvalho, receiving a red card in the quarter-final against Portugal.

England eventually lost the game on penalties.

It was a similar story in 2010, with Rooney enduring another frustrating World Cup along with the rest of the England squad.

He can't allow it to happen again. Time is no longer on his side.

When we consider the greats of English football, it's World Cup memories that separate them from the rest.

There are good players, talented players even, but to be considered among those select few who transcend time requires a little more than simply turning it on against minnows in qualifying.

Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker's England careers are defined by their performances on the world stage—Charlton's 1966 heroics, Lineker's displays at Mexico '86 and his goals at Italia '90.

Bob Dear/Associated Press

They are the stuff of legend.

Rooney's former Manchester United teammate Michael Owen is no different, bursting onto the scene at France '98 as a raw 18-year-old talent before scoring vital goals in 2002.

There are few question marks surrounding their international pedigree and until Rooney finally turns up at a World Cup, his true greatness will always be up for debate, regardless of whether or not he becomes England's all-time goalscorer.

Brazil 2014 is about much more than scoring his first World Cup goal, though. Rooney needs to inspire a nation.

Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney: He comes with a profile unrivaled by any of his teammates and that alone brings a sense of heightened pressure.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, England enter a World Cup with expectations refreshingly low, but it's not the same for Rooney.

The Three Lions may not be expected to go far, yet it doesn't mean the desire from English fans for them to succeed doesn't still remain.

They want to see England perform and Rooney is the man on whose shoulders the expectation rests.

It's likely to be his last World Cup as England's star player and he needs to perform—for the country, for himself and for that all-important legacy every player craves.

Most wilt under that sort of pressure. When England face Italy on Saturday, we'll find out how Rooney will react.

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