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Farewell, captain: Rooney hangs up his English boots

During Everton's away fixture against Manchester City on Tuesday, Wayne Rooney added another feather in his cap after scoring the 200th goal of his illustrious career in Premier League. At 32, when many critics have not hesitated to write him off, Rooney hit back aptly at his naysayers with a delicious finish off a ball into the 18-yard box by up and comer Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

That brilliant finish with his weaker left foot at the Etihad Stadium, his headed goal at Goodison Park in the season's opening fixture against Stoke City, his overall impressive pre-season form and the fact that he was the captain of the national side were reasons enough for England manager Gareth Southgate to pick select Rooney for England's upcoming international matches. Southgate called the Everton number 10 to inform him that he wanted him back in the England squad. Little did the manager know that he would be left disappointed.
On Wednesday, Wayne Rooney announced on his official website that he has decided to retire for good from international football. The decision, he said, was really tough and "one that I have discussed with my family, my manager at Everton and those closest to me." And with that unceremonious exit, England's all time leading goal scorer and second most capped player flagged off a new era in the English national team.
Rooney's decision comes as a shock not to just his millions of fans, but to his teammates as well. Days before a World Cup qualification match against Slovakia in 2016, Rooney had said that he will retire after the finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. His premature retirement may not necessarily cripple the England national side, as they have started getting used to life without Rooney. But what the side will miss sorely is a versatile player who played without complaining in any capacity that the team needed him to.
Making his debut as a 17-year-old in February 2003, Rooney was at the time England's youngest ever player; a record later broken by Arsenal's Theo Walcott. However, he still remains England's youngest ever goal scorer when he scored in a 2-1 victory against Macedonia in a 2004 UEFA Euro qualifier game. In the Euro tournament itself, Rooney made a mark by scoring four goals in four matches and taking his side to the quarter-finals. Though England lost to host Portugal in penalties, Rooney had made sure that his name would be remembered for years to come.
That, in all fairness, was perhaps the only tournament where England reaped all the benefits of Rooney's presence. His performances in all successive international tournaments were still notable, but none would match the level of his 18-year-old self at the 2004 Euro. In the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, England chose the services of a half-fit Rooney, after he was nursing an injury sustained in a Premier League match in April that year. Despite managing to get into the side, Rooney went goalless in the tournament. England managed to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament, once again to face Portugal. That game was more than forgettable for Rooney, as he was dismissed in the 62nd minute for stamping on Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho.
With the bitter memories of the 2006 World Cup behind him, a reenergised Rooney was instrumental in England's qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Rooney scored in nine of England's ten qualifier games and ended the round with the second highest number of goals. The 2010 World Cup finals in Germany also saw a major development in Rooney's career, as he was handed over the number 10 shirt by then manager Fabio Capello.
Over the six years of playing for England, Rooney was a typical number 9, scoring from both inside and just outside the box, with gifted midfielders like David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard feeding him sumptuous balls from different angles. But Rooney was now starting to show excellence – a versatile player, capable of playing in an attacking number 10 role, thus justifying his new kit number. Sadly, the World Cup turned out to be another bummer for Rooney and the England national side. Having won a solitary game in the group stages, England was knocked out in the Round of 16 by a superior German side, who thrashed them 4-1. Rooney, once again, finished the tournament empty-handed.
Then came the 2012 Euro, held in Poland and Ukraine, where England once again finished as the group leaders in the qualification campaign. Rooney scored crucial goals for his team, but his notorious temper got the better of him in the last qualifying game against Montenegro, where a reckless tackle cost him a red card and a ban for two matches in the group stage matches of the 2012 Euro. However, he did play in England's final group stage game against Ukraine and scored the only goal, thrusting his side to the quarter-finals. The quarter-final curse, however, again put a spanner in England's works, as they lost to eventual runner-ups Italy 4-2 on penalties.
Even though Rooney turned in his penalty and even had scored in one of his two games in the tournament, his manager Capello was critical of Rooney's performances, claiming that he "only plays well in Manchester."
For the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign, Rooney once again brought out the goods, ended up as the top scorer in Group H, which was topped by England. His seven goals in the qualifiers were crucial to England's qualification, with the team winning seven games and drawing four games. But the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil was perhaps the most forgettable international tournament in Rooney's stellar career. Successive 2-1 losses to Italy and Uruguay in the group stages meant that England's hopes of qualifying for the Round of 16 were buried in the ground. Costa Rica, the surprise table toppers in Group D, drew in the final game with England. Thus ended England's dismal 2014 World Cup campaign, with Rooney scoring a solitary goal.
In his third UEFA Euro tournament qualification campaign, Rooney once again shone brighter than his English teammates. Scoring seven goals in the 10 games, Rooney's captaincy gave English much needed hope. By winning all of their 10 qualifying games, England proved that they might well be trophy contenders in the 2016 edition of the Euro in France. During England's qualifying game against Switzerland, Rooney scored his 50th goal for the national team, breaking the legendary Bobby Charlton's record and becoming England's record goal scorer in international games. Despite achieving this laurel Rooney could not shepherd his team to glory in the finals of the tournament. England was knocked off in the Round of 16 by minnows Iceland, who shocked the world by beating England 2-1. Other than scoring England's lone goal in the game, Rooney could not help his side much.
There is no doubting the fact Rooney's international career has been impressive by any standard. He has achieved feats that very few Englishmen have achieved for the national side. Yet, of late, his fitness struggles always trumped his footballing talent, raising questions on his performance levels. Even 1966 World Cup winning Geoff Hurst had said that Southgate should be brave enough to drop Rooney from the side if he does not achieve the necessary levels of fitness. Less than 24 hours later, Hurst's comments came to fruition, albeit not in a way he would have wanted.
Rooney's achievements at the club level are unparalleled, with only Manchester United's Michael Carrick winning all the different trophies that Rooney has won over his long club football career. However, with Rooney's sudden departure from the national side, England will not only miss the services of a footballer vastly talented, but also a captain who was beloved by Englishmen.

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