Wayne Rooney: His best England XI ever

Alex Caple

Wayne Rooney has retired as an England player, finally bringing an end to the “Golden Age” that led England for a decade. Now, calling it a Golden Age is a little rich seeing as it definitely did not involve itself with any gold, but it was an era that saw England and Rooney line up with some of the world’s greatest players. So what better way to showcase that fact than a classic, easy-to-read eleven in the 4-4-2 that England stuck with for too long?

GK. Joe Hart

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Rooney is pretty unfortunate not to have featured alongside a great England goalkeeper. He narrowly missed out on David Seaman by a couple of years – the closest he got to the former Arsenal keeper being his first Premier League goal.

Paul Robinson, David James, Rob Green, Chris Kirkland, and Scott Carson all followed (quite badly, although Robinson was pretty decent for a while) before Joe Hart came along. Whatever you think of Hart now, and it certainly isn’t much if you’re Italian, he was a breath of fresh air when he first showed up. He was solid, athletic, and a real leader on the pitch. Hopefully, he can get back to that level, but he still remains the best Rooney played with for England.

RB. Gary Neville

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Neville absolutely dominated England’s right-back slot for over a decade. He was incredibly reliable, capable of doing it all to the degree needed. For anyone who didn’t get to witness that, it genuinely was a thing – full-backs were reliable and didn’t get roasted for 90 minutes. It was great.

Glen Johnson came after Neville (see above) and then Kyle Walker/Nathaniel Clyne, but Neville has this one comfortably sewn up.

LB. Ashley Cole

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Cole is arguably the only name on the team sheet that you can confidently say that he was the best in the world in his position at one stage. An incredible left back, and yet another that we’re left longing for (that’ll be a theme).

He had it all – quick, defensively sound, a threat going forward – there’s a reason he was England’s left back for 13 years, picking up over 100 caps.

The only problem is that he was thoroughly unlikeable. Can’t have it all.

CB. John Terry

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Speaking of unlikeable…

Okay, so that’s unfair: the standout fact about John Terry isn’t that he’s unlikeable; he’s one of the greatest defenders England has ever produced.

A leader, a presence, considerably underrated on the ball (as much of a cliche as it’s become to say that about him) – John Terry was another world-class player for England. In a generation of outstanding centre backs, Terry was possibly the best.

CB. Rio Ferdinand

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It shows just how great England’s centre backs have been throughout Rooney’s career that both Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher don’t make it into a best eleven. It also shows up England’s current selection that all four mentioned were there at the same time.

Ferdinand was excellent. While his ability on the ball was often talked up beyond what it actually was (you’d have thought he was simultaneously a world-class playmaker), he was undeniably a fantastic all around defender. We’re only five players in and it’s already quite depressing…

RM. David Beckham

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Rooney just missed arguably the peak of Beckham’s powers, both for England and Man United. Still, he had two tournaments alongside him – the two tournaments that Rooney can look back on and wonder ‘What if?’

Beckham had a hell of an England career, experiencing both highs and lows. The undisputed face of the England team during his time as captain, Beckham was probably only appreciated as he should have been once he left it. Things just haven’t been the same since he left.

CM. Paul Scholes

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The most successful English player ever, in terms of trophies, but Scholes never really shone for England. His entire career was spent searching for his best position, only arguably finding it right at the end – despite a strange development over the previous few years that claims he was always a world-class holding midfielder.

Still, EURO 2004 was the end of his international career, so Rooney never really got enough time alongside him in the team. Deserves his place alongside the rest of the world-class midfielders in this one, though.

CM. Frank Lampard

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One of them was going on the left, the other in the middle.

Lampard was arguably the best midfield player in the world at his best (with the argument being found just to the left of him here). Unfortunately, England never really found the system to get the best out of him, frequently holding him back or asking him to ‘do a job’.

Still, yet another world class player that Rooney was lucky enough to play with.

LM. Steven Gerrard

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Was he actually a left midfielder? No. Could he play there? Yes, he could play anywhere. That and the “Lampard and Gerrard in a midfield two” argument went on for far too long, so here’s a fix.

The 2005 Ballon d’Or saw Lampard second and Gerrard third (behind Ronaldinho) with just six votes in it – this was the absolute pinnacle of English football over the past 25 years. In fact, that year saw Terry 10th, Carragher 20th, and Beckham, Owen and Rooney all shortlisted. God, things were good.

The latest England captain on this list, Gerrard was another who really never replicated his club performances for his country, for many of the same reasons as Lampard.

CF. Wayne Rooney

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Well he kinda had to be in here, didn’t he?

England’s all-time record goalscorer, their star at multiple tournaments, and an England captain – Rooney has had a fantastic England career, no matter what.

Did he live up to all the early hype? Possibly not, but then he’s England’s all-time record goalscorer – that’s an incredible level of success no matter what the expectations were.

CF. Michael Owen

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The original Rooney, in some ways. The hype around Owen after the ’98 World Cup was unbelievable, but then again, he is the only Ballon d’Or winner on this list.

It’s again a little unfortunate that Rooney missed out on more time partnering Owen up top, as injuries started to take their toll before an ACL tear at the 2006 World Cup all but ended his international career.

Regardless, Owen is yet another world-class England player who Rooney got to play with.

I’m sure some have noticed that this is just England’s 2006 World Cup side with Joe Hart in goal and Paul Scholes un-retired, but it should be. This was the most incredible selection of players that England have had in a long, long time – and likely will be for the foreseeable future.

How the hell did they not achieve anything?

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