In Review

England vs. USA: Wayne Rooney’s farewell divides nation

Three Lions’s all-time top scorer will come on as sub at Wembley tonight

England vs. USA

England host the United States at Wembley tonight in a friendly that has been overshadowed by the decision to turn the match into a farewell to Wayne Rooney.

The former Manchester United striker, who now plays for DC United in Washington, will win his 120th and final cap exactly two years after his last appearance for the Three Lions.

According to Sky Sports, Rooney “will be given a guard of honour before kick-off, made up of players and his family, and there will also be a presentation from FA chairman Greg Clarke to mark the striker’s service for England”.

Split decision

The decision to honour Rooney has split both the public and press. The Times’s Henry Winter argues that it is a well-deserved recognition of the record 53 goals that the player scored for his country. 

“Rooney’s overall record is still remarkable, and fans remember how he kept reporting for duty even if there may have been club pressures to stay behind,” writes Winter.

“Wembley will wrap Rooney in the warmest of embraces. England fans respect Rooney. They’ve had their patience tested at times, but they know that Rooney hurt in defeat as much as they did.”

Darker times

But not all England fans feel that way. To many supporters, Rooney is representative of that England generation who promised so much and delivered so little, and did so with bad grace.

Critics point to incidents like that when Rooney was caught on camera berating England fans after they booed the team off the field following a dire goalless draw with Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. 

Add having been caught up in scandals involving prostitutes, drink-driving and fighting, Rooney has hardly been the ideal role model for English football. 

“While Rooney may be the country’s record scorer, for many he is a reminder of the dark times,” says Conor Mummery in the Daily Mirror. “Of Steve McClaren, of South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. When following England was a chore, not a joy.” 

World Cup failure

Rooney dazzled in only one international tournament, the 2004 European Championships, when he scored four goals, finishing as the second-equal top scorer behind the Czech Republic’s Milan Baros.

Even then England couldn’t progress beyond the quarter-finals - as they couldn’t in any of the tournaments in which Rooney played.

The most damning statistic, however, concerns his World Cup exploits. In three tournaments he scored just once, in the 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in 2014. By contrast, Harry Kane found the net six times in the 2018 World Cup. Meanwhile, John Stones has scored more World Cup goals than Rooney - and he’s a defender.

Mummery continues: “For many fans, England’s performances at the [2018] World Cup recaptured their love for the national team, heralding a new era with fresh faces and infectious enthusiasm.” 

Going backwards

That’s why Rooney’s presence tonight at Wembley will be an unwelcome reminder of an era when England were not a joy to behold, an era of international underachievers in the form of John Terry, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard.

“I’m still struggling to understand the decision,” said Peter Shilton, the only Englishman to have represented his country (125) more times than Rooney. “It’s been two years since Wayne last played, England are on a new threshold and have just had a great World Cup, but are going backwards with this.”

Southgate: it’s an incredible career

In response to the criticism, England boss Gareth Southgate told the BBC: “It’s been disappointing to see him have to defend his inclusion. He is very different to run-of-the-mill players like me who played for England. I spoke to the under-15s last week and they are so early in their development but he was around the senior squad when he was 17.

“I know a big regret for him was that the team didn’t get to where he wanted, but when you look at the pressure he had to deal with individually, it is an incredible career. Hopefully, he has felt that warmth from all of us and I know the reaction of the supporters will be very special to him.”

Team news and possible starting XIs 

England team news

Southgate will experiment with his side tonight as England face Croatia in the Uefa Nations League on Sunday.

The Three Lions boss is expected to hand out three debuts, the Daily Mirror reports. Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson and Brighton defender Lewis Dunk are set to start the game, while Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy is likely to come on at half-time for his senior debut.

Sky Sports adds that Jadon Sancho is in line to make his first England start. The 18-year-old winger has been in impressive form for German side Borussia Dortmund this season.

Manchester City star Fabian Delph will captain England tonight at Wembley. He will hand the armband to Rooney when the former Manchester United star comes on for his cameo in the second-half.

Possible starting XIs

How the teams may line up tonight at Wembley, according to the Daily Mirror:  

  • England possible starting XI (4-3-3): Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Dunk, Keane, Shaw; Delph, Winks, Loftus-Cheek; Lingard, Sancho, Wilson 
  • USA possible starting XI (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Yedlin, Miazga, Brooks, Villafana; Adams, Trapp; Pulisic, McKennie, Weah; Wood
How to watch on TV

The England vs. USA friendly will be live on Sky Sports Main Event. Sky’s coverage starts at 7pm and the match begins at 8pm.

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