For years, English fans were sold on the idea that Steven Gerrard was the complete midfielder: England’s engine room, driving force and creative inspiration. But what rewards did Gerrard’s era of midfield dominance actually reap? Stale football, group stage disappointments and a one-dimensional, predictable approach. In just two games, Wayne Rooney has highlighted all of Gerrard’s inadequacies in an England shirt.
Rewind to last September, Wayne Rooney was writing himself into England history books as the country’s most prolific goalscorer of all-time. His consistency as England’s first choice centre-forward over a 13-year tenure has earned him his rightful place alongside the likes of Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker. Wayne could’ve rested on his laurels as England’s greatest ever striker, instead he’s out to become England’s greatest ever midfielder and it hasn’t taken him long to surpass Gerrard.
There can be no doubting that Wayne Rooney has evolved into a world-class midfielder, for both club and country. Upon returning from a knee injury in April – which cut down his domestic season by two months – Rooney assumed a position in the engine room as opposed to the forward line on his return. For all Louis van Gaal’s flaws as Manchester United manager, moving Rooney into centre-midfield was a masterful stroke.
In hindsight it seems ludicrous that anyone ever doubted Rooney’s position in the team, his performances so far in Euro 2016 have been inspiring – true captain’s performances. Jack Wilshere, the man who many tipped to replace Gerrard in the heart of England’s midfield, before a series of injuries blighted his progress, has been quick to hold his hands up and admit to Rooney’s superior class:
“It hurts me to say but he plays the position unbelievably,
“I’ve said it before: he’s our best player. He understands the game so well,
“His appreciation of the strikers’ positions … he reads their runs when not many other people would even see the pass. To get that pass right, with the right weight, takes a special player. Or the times, in training as well, when he picks up the ball deep and sprays a long pass. He never gets one wrong, he’s always perfect. That’s when you can tell he has something special.”
Towards the end of Gerrard’s international career, England were playing some of the most predictable and stale football fans had ever witnessed. The F.A struggled to fill out Wembley stadium ahead of qualifiers, with fans bored out of their mind watching England follow the same Gerrard-enforced style of play, every game… let me describe it for you:
Joe Hart plays the goal-kick short, the centre-back pairing pass the ball between themselves for 30 seconds, Gerrard comes deep to collect possession, (enter European international minnow here) back away to the edge of their box. Gerrard looks up for the Hollywood pass, sprays a diagonal pass 50 yards – the ball sails through the air, Sterling doesn’t jump and the ball is cleared away. Repeat.
Gerrard’s habit for slowing England’s attack was criminal, there was no variety to the Liverpool man’s game. Long ball or nothing, a pass is always struck with the laces and the resulting pose must be held for the F.A photographers. Rooney is a refreshing change.
England carry a far more potent attacking threat with Wayne Rooney. Pulling the strings from the midfield, Rooney guided his team to a stunning victory over Wales – breaking down one of the most stubborn defences in the international game:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 16, 2016
Just take a look at the range of passing from Rooney during England’s 2-1 victory over Wales:
Rooney carried England across the line, in a manner that Gerrard was never able to do in neither Euro 2012 or the 2014 World Cup. Rooney completed a team-high 68 passes against Wales, while directly creating six of his side’s 16 chances.
His influence cannot be underrated. With Rooney in the heart of the midfield, England finally have a player who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drive everyone forward. Gerrard talked a good fight, but never displayed the diverse range of qualities needed to carry a game in an England shirt – with Rooney, we finally have the full package.