It has sparked plenty of debate this week and tonight, Wayne Rooney will earn his 120th and final cap for England.
The country’s record goalscorer will see his achievements celebrated at Wembley Stadium in a friendly against the United States. It’s known that he will only appear as a substitute, but Rooney will wear the number 10 shirt on Thursday night, as was requested by his fellow teammates.
So, what’s the fuss? Rooney gets a cameo appearance off the bench, does a lap of honour at the end of the friendly and England move onto their clash with Croatia in the Nations League on Sunday.
Cheapens international caps?
Yet it’s not been that simple. There have been plenty of critics for the FA’s decision to allow a farewell appearance due to the notion of it being a ‘free cap’. Whilst that may be true, it seems more of a pushback to a changing of status quo. No other England player has received such a send off, so why should Rooney?
Other players from his era such as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole exited through the back door like most do at international level. However, none of those players broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record and an achievement of 50 international goals deserves recognition.
It was an idea inspired by Lukas Podolski’s retirement from Germany last year, as the forward played one final time for his country against England. To this point, Rooney is yet to have made an appearance under Gareth Southgate, who rather coldly froze the then-England captain out of his squad without warning.
The reaction to the news hasn’t been particularly supportive, with former England international Stuart Pearce having his say.
"I heard it was going to be a charitable game for Wayne's foundation and I thought fantastic, with Wayne playing in the States and coming back in some capacity, but to actually go on the pitch and play and get a cap I am totally against," he said.
"It cheapens an international cap and I don't think it's right. Wayne being at the game and being honoured by the fans in some capacity would be fantastic, for all that he has done in English football, but to actually come back as a bring-the-crowd-in type scenario is not for me."
Setting a precedent?
Peter Shilton - the man who played until he was 47 to reach 1000 league appearances - was also critical, despite the fact he will remain England’s record cap holder despite Rooney’s farewell appearance. The former Manchester United and Everton forward himself admitted he wouldn’t have accepted the invitation had it meant breaking a record.
Rooney also said he hoped that this would become a regular occurrence, with many previous England internationals not receiving such recognition. None of the World Cup winning side of 1966 had such a moment in the spotlight, but instead of being critical of the past, should we not be celebrating the fact the FA are learning from their mistakes?
We are a nation that is highly critical of our national side and this is another step towards getting behind the team instead of berating them. Southgate is helping England turn a corner and moments such as these don’t go unnoticed by players, who may now feel that they will be appreciated for their efforts rather than be scrutinised.
Those who argue that Rooney’s cap could go to one of England’s young prospects, such as Phil Foden, are quick to forget that the recently called up James Maddison and Mason Mount were twice unused substitutes in the previous international break. The ones that are good enough right now to play will do so, such as Jadon Sancho, who is set to start tonight.
This is a friendly that will celebrate one of the best England players of his generation, a record breaker, as well as raise money for charity. There are far more important things to worry about than Rooney coming off the bench in an otherwise meaningless international friendly.
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