In three words Wayne Rooney’s website tells you everything that is wrong with English football.
The officialwaynerooney.com homepage is dominated by a photo of the new England captain. Underneath the shot of Rooney, arms outstretched, Christ-like and heaven gazing, stand the three little words that are meant to define his image.
Strength; Determination; Courage.
They are noble, heroic words, words of battle, of war. They conjure images of knights riding into battle, of foes being vanquished, of smiters smiting rather than strikers striking. They are not, strictly speaking, football words; or at least they shouldn’t be.
They are far removed from words like skill, vision and technique.
Without getting too far into any etymological debates, they are a world away from what has come to define “good football.”
These three little words represent a bygone footballing era. It is time to move on. The game done changed.
Surely there is more to Wayne Rooney than this?
What about his ability to read the game? To see the passes and space others do not? To find the one part of the goal the keeper cannot reach?
It seems that superhero-Rooney is the image his PR people have chosen to define him, his website, his brand. It is an image they are happy to make a buck off no matter what it says about the England captain and English football.
If strength, determination and courage are really the defining qualities of the best English player of his generation then it is little wonder that the England team continue to struggle at elite international competition.
Until these qualities, and few would deny that they are advantageous, are relegated in favour of more technical ones England will continue to falter in comparison to the more progressive footballing nations.
The Spanish inquisition
Looking back on his time with Liverpool Xabi Alonso lamented the masochistic obsession with tackling in English football and the detrimental impact a reverence for passion has on young players.
“Passion? Of course it’s necessary but it’s more important to have footballing foundations, certainly when developing players. Passion isn’t something you work on. It’s more important to construct a good team, to know how you are going to play, how to read the match. You have to truly understand the game” – (Xabi Alonso, The Guardian 11/11/11).
Rooney is a passionate player but has struggled to fulfil his phenomenal potential. When the assassin-faced-baby burst onto an unsuspecting Premier League in 2002 his freakishly advanced physicality was remarked upon almost as often as his footballing ability.
A young bull in a China shop; a baby elephant pirouetting through defences; more Lionel Asbo than Lionel Messi.
This bestial focus on his strength allowed the few technical failings in his game to be ignored. Rooney didn’t need to keep the ball closer when in possession or take smaller strides when running with the ball because he was strong enough to withstand opponents.
Matter over mind?
It has become easy to dismiss Rooney’s more cerebral qualities. He is a highly intelligent player with a prodigious game sense. His technique is far in advance of most England players and when onform he is a greatly effective player.
An on-song Rooney is a great choice as England captain. He brings qualities that are not always associated with his game: intelligence, selflessness, leadership. But the words that dominate his website have dominated English football for too long.
The golden triangle
There is a place for strength, determination and courage in football, of course there is. But they must not be the gold, silver and bronze of qualities that young English players aspire to.
If England is to step out of the dark ages it must put down the gun and step away from its obsession with militaristic football. Its young stars must speak the language of football more eloquently and leave the war games behind.
Football is the beautiful game. It is not rugby.
Technique; Vision; Imagination. Not: Strength; Determination; Courage.