Is This Wayne Rooney's Last World Cup Chance?

Wayne Rooney has zero goals in eight World Cup games. Is Brazil his last chance?

Let’s do a blind profile here. This forward is going to Brazil after scoring 16 goals for his country in 22 games played during his World Cup qualification career. His team has won 18 of those 22 games. When he made his debut in 2003, he was the youngest player ever to play his country. (In that same year, he was also the youngest to score.) He has since played a total of 85 games at the international level, scoring 38 times with 16 assists. All the while, he's accumulated 6,471 minutes on the pitch.

He is his county’s all-time leading goalscorer in competitive international games, as well as his country’s top goalscorer in this particular World Cup Qualification with seven goals. The dude is accomplished! So why is he making comments such as, “There will be no excuses this time if I don’t perform”?

Such is life for Wayne Rooney these days. At least when it comes to performing on the biggest international stage.

Listening to Wayne Rooney speak as he prepares for the World Cup, you can feel his pressure absorbing the energy in the room. This will be his third World Cup and fifth major tournament for England, and time is running out for him to accomplish something - anything. The statistics are grim: eight games played at two World Cups, and zero goals. Yes, you read that correctly. No goals. He actually has more red cards than goals.

An ugly memory is the time against Portugal in 2006, when he lost his cool as a then Manchester United teammate riled him up. A sly wink from Cristiano Ronaldo let everyone know that Portugal understood this was a man crumbling under the pressure of a country to deliver. And that pressure is only larger now.

This is an English team in transition. This is also a team bursting with youth. Players like Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are there to not only help Rooney succeed, but also to eventually replace him. You only had to watch Liverpool on one of the many days they slaughtered teams at Anfield to know that Rooney will be replaced soon as the English talisman.

But England still needs Rooney if they have any hope of success in Brazil (our numbers give them the seventh-best odds to win it all). The young guns are good, but inexperienced. Rooney dodges the age question with a slight grin and chuckle, “I’m not too old, but I’ve certainly got a lot of experience at the international level.” That is certainly true. But success? Nope, he doesn’t have much of that. “There will be no excuses this time if I don’t perform.” He is right about that. The only thing that matters is results. Putting the ball in the net in this case. The decision to leave Landon Donovan off the USMNT roster gives Rooney a glimpse into his not-too-distant future.

No matter what sport you play, all world class players are judged on the biggest stages. No one can doubt Rooney’s success at the club level - he has scored 216 goals for Manchester United. Add in 113 assists in 442 games played, and you have the definition of prolific. He has over 35,000 minutes on the pitch leading Manchester United to (get ready, it’s going to be long and probably sad reading if you are a fan of Liverpool or Manchester City): 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, 1 Champions League title, 1 Fifa Club World Cup title, 1 Player of the Year award, 2 Young Player of the Year awards, yada, yada, yada. You get it, I won’t go on.

But talk about this success to an English man from Tottenham and he’ll probably say, “Yeah? A lot of good that has done for the England national team! Let’s see him perform there.” The man who has performed everywhere needs to perform for the Three Lions. And this is his last chance. And he knows it. “For the World Cup in 2018, I’ll be a bit older then. So it will be obviously difficult to impact it the way I believe I can do.”

Fabio Capello, the once England Manager said that Rooney, “Only plays well in Manchester.” Well, England kick off their World Cup campaign in the city of Manaus. Different to Manchester in almost every conceivable way with the exception of the first three letters. Rooney has been recently quoted as saying, “I feel ready and fresh and as good as I can do to go into this tournament.”

Fake it till you make it, Wayne. At least, an entire country hopes that is the case.