In Depth

Wayne Rooney dropped: Overdue decision marks end of an era

England's talisman is no longer worthy of a place in the national team, but does he still have a role to play for club and country?

Wayne Rooney has reached his "lowest ebb" after being dropped first by club and now country, but does his omission from the national team mark the beginning of the end for a player who has dominated the headlines since he burst onto the scene with Everton as a 16-year-old in 2002?

Over the past 14 years Rooney has become "one of British football's most significant and influential figures", says Phil McNulty of the BBC, who is one of many commentators wondering if the "Rooney era" is now over.

'The end is nigh'

With his announcement yesterday, Gareth Southgate "lowered the curtain on Rooney's England career", says Henry Winter in The Times

The Man United player will be replaced by Eric Dier in the team and "rather than shoehorning in a fading star, Southgate has rightly gone for a solid framework in midfield, for players starting in those positions for their clubs", he says.

Winter notes that the reason for Rooney's omission was the greater "athleticism" of his replacement. "A player who made his professional debut in 2002, Rooney is now 30 and in physical decline at a time when the game is speeding up," he writes. "Of his 117 appearances, 108 have been starts and there may not be more of those. He may pick up caps from the bench, inching closer to Peter Shilton's record of 125 but it is slightly undignified for such a proud character."

Forget sentiment, the decision makes sense, says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian. "Southgate has done the sensible thing, removing Rooney, and we should probably avoid calling it courageous, or bottle, or any of the other words that have been applied so far. This is what it is: overdue. It cannot have been easy for Southgate to break the news but Rooney's deterioration has not just been accelerating since the start of the season."

A symbolic move

Overdue or not, Rooney's omission represents a "a seismic shift, one that caps a quite astonishing 112 days since that loss to Iceland, during which two managers and now the captain have fallen", says Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail.

Rooney has spoken of his desire to be regarded as an England great, but "he will be remembered as much for the 53 goals and that brilliance at Euro 2004 as he will for too many moments of disappointment at the major tournaments that followed", says Lawton. 

England have relied too much on him, says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. "Rooney has been England's most distinguished player through a decade of crushing disappointment in which he was so often cast as a potential saviour: a theory that ignored the mediocrity around him.

"It feels like the end of England's Rooney phase, their Rooney dependence, which had become elongated."

He still has a role to play

Rooney's "days as a first choice for England are now over", agrees McNulty of the BBC, but his "defiant and measured response to his exclusion holds the key" to his future.

"Rooney is widely respected within England's squad, not just as a player but as character and leader. He has developed into a mature spokesman and is regarded as a superb influence, especially with younger players.

"And for all his struggles and falling away from the brilliance that made his name, he has not declined to the point where he should be ditched completely from a squad still in recovery from the fiasco of Euro 2016."

So what next?

"What we are left with now is a fading old pro, approaching his 31st birthday, after starting at the age of 16 and never going through a season without playing at least 42 games," says Daniel Taylor in the Guardian.

England boss Southgate believes that in every position Rooney can occupy there is a better candidate, which effectively rules him out of the 2018 World Cup finals should England qualify, says Winter of the Times.

But it's not entirely over for Rooney, says Hayward of the Telegraph. "He has played his way out of the Manchester United and England starting XIs and can still play his way back in. At 30, though, he must know he will have to rebuild his game and fitness, and abandon his plan to play in deep midfield."

What is clear is that Rooney finds himself in "uncharted territory – no longer an automatic choice for Manchester United and England and no longer feeling the unconditional love of supporters who once adored him", says McNulty of the BBC. But his decision to face the press after his omission by England is telling. 

"For now at least it looks like Rooney will stay to face the biggest fights of his football career with Manchester United and England," says McNulty, claiming that the player will reject the chance of a lucrative move to China or the US.

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