At the start of this decade, Wayne Rooney was considered one of the best soccer players in the world. For a while, there was even broad consensus that only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were better. Today, 30-year-old Croxteth-native Wayne Mark Rooney finds himself starring in his very own lowlight reels, featuring all the worst moments from his last game. Not great times for the man with a tattoo that reads "Just Enough Education To Perform," which was always a dubious claim. The ink is a nod to an album title by his favorite band, the Stereophonics. The video is just kind of a bummer.
Rooney's heyday feels like a long time ago now.He no longer has the speed to be a striker or the engine to play off the front man. So he sort of drops into the midfield, where he clogs up his team's attacking rhythm, rather than accelerates it. As such, he's become a big problem for both his club, Manchester United, and England's national team. Rooney is about to be the all-time leading scorer for both—he needs just three more United goals to tie Bobby Charlton. If he plays nine more times for England, he'll have worn its jersey more often than any other man.
But while Rooney should, at his age, still be in his prime, he very much isn't.
It's not unusual for players who broke out as teenagers, as the 16-year-old Rooney did for Everton, to start to wane around age 30 or so. Plenty of great strikers—Michael Owen, Patrick Kluivert, Ronaldo—who scored regularly before they could get their driver's license in Europe, were more or less washed up by the time they were 30. Maybe they peaked early. Maybe it was the strain of the modern game. Either way, it seems to be happening to Rooney as well.
The trouble is, neither United nor England seems willing to accept that. Maybe it's because he makes way too much money to sit on the bench. Or, more likely, because history-and tradition-steeped English soccer doesn't know how to kill off its sacred cows and turn them into delicious hamburgers or something else more useful.
Both Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce insist on retooling him as some kind of midfielder in a free role, despite the fact that the only thing Rooney still does consistently is send lazy but fairly accurate cross-field balls. As a result, new United signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe for Borussia Dortmund last season, is languishing on the bench. So did Tottenham sensation Dele Alli in England's first World Cup qualifier on September 4, who had to sit so that England's ineffectual captain could play behind striker Harry Kane.
It's apparently important that Rooney breaks some more records. There may be more lowlight videos coming before that happens.