Comment: Man Utd’s Rooney undoubtedly an England legend, FIFA rankings a sham, Stokes ‘stop’ just not cricket

Wayne Rooney’s non-popularity is the strangest in football this century: awe-inspiring when in full flow, successful beyond most footballer’s dreams, yet never truly accepted as great.

Rooney’s opening strike against San Marino on Saturday not only set England on their way to a 6-0 victory which secured qualification to the European Championships next summer, but drew him level with Sir Bobby Charlton as the country’s top goalscorer, on 49 goals. 

A penalty scored against a team who boast just a single victory from 129 matches was hardly the most auspicious manner in which to make history – a fact that most observers have used to discredit the 29-year-old’s accomplishment.

In fact, as Rooney has got closer and closer to surpassing Sir Bobby’s 47-year record, the churlish chatter has grown inexorably.

“He’s not half the player Bobby Charlton was,’ his detractors have cried.

“He’s never won nothing,” his critics have gloated.

“He only scores against rubbish teams in qualifying,” the non-believers confidently assert.

Why people choose to focus on the fact that other players have been ‘better’ – many of whom referring to Charlton despite never watching him play – is a confusing conundrum: does our country not have room to celebrate two greats?

Is Cristiano Ronaldo’s genius diminished because Eusebio got there first? Is Lionel Messi going to be remembered as anything less than Herculean because of Maradona’s earlier accomplishments?

And has Rooney been any less of a once-in-a-generation player for our country due to the fact that that generation gave birth to two of the finest players the sport has seen in Ronaldo and Messi.

The fact is that most people are missing the point.

Whilst debates are being waged over whether Rooney is a legendary figure, the man himself is out there, scoring goals, making himself a legend.

Pundits and polls may say today that the striker is little more than a talent that got away, a teenage prodigy who didn’t kick on, who failed to truly make his mark on the international scene.

But in fifty years time, it will be his name that tops the goalscoring charts for both his country and the biggest club it contains.

When Sir Bobby was at his peak, surely he had lean spells, when eager journalists whispered of his demise and impatient fans eyed foreign talents enviously?

The very fact that Rooney has achieved these legendary accomplishments marks him out as a truly special footballer.

Regardless of whether that is recognised by fans and pundits in 2015, in 2050 the point will be irrefutable.

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If Wales had conquered Israel on Sunday, they would have climbed to number four in FIFA’s world ranking system.

Their 0-0 stalemate scuppered such grandeur, but the fact remains that Chris Coleman’s men are sitting comfortably in the top 10, above England for the first time in their history.

Amongst the team to start both the Israel game, and the 1-0 victory in Cyprus that all but guaranteed them qualification for the Euros for the first time on Friday, were Gareth Bale – the world’ most expensive footballer – and Arsenal playmaker Aaron Ramsey.

Also playing were Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu – leading the line as opposed to his usual berth on the wings – and Chris Gunter, a right-back by nature but employed as one of three central defenders with captain Ashley Williams and second-choice Tottenham left-back Ben Davies.

The top 10 ranking of a team in which Championship players in unfamiliar positions outnumber those operating in the higher echelons of club football raises three points.

First, Coleman is doing an incredible job, selecting eight of his ten outfield players for their ability to facilitate their two potential match-winners, Ramsey and Bale.

And in return, Bale is delivering, scoring or assisting eight of Wales’ nine goals in qualification so far – prompting BBC pundit Robbie Savage to label him Wales’ ‘best ever player’.

Secondly, with no disrespect intended to Wales’ overachieving heroes, the FIFA ranking system needs to be reworked if it is be viewed with any semblance of credibility.

Finally, if the rankings are to be taken as gospel, if Wales truly are one of the ten best footballing nations with a midfield partnership of Simon Church and Andy King and Crystal Palace’s reserve goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, between the sticks, then world football is at a seriously low ebb.

– – –

England’s second ODI loss to Australia was marred by an incident which many have deemed ill-fitting with the gentlemanly air that cricket is supposed to be played in.

Ben Stokes became just the sixth player in history to be dismissed ‘obstructing the field’, when his protectively outstretched mitt stopped Mitchell Starc’s close-range hurl from rearranging his stumps.

Despite the electric all-rounder’s protestations that his was a split-second reaction to the threat of ball to face, the Aussies’ half-hearted appeal was upheld by the third umpire.

Cue disgust from Stokes, captain Eoin Morgan, the Lords crowd, and nearly every Englishman in England.

Nearly, but not all.

The law states that a batsman is obstructing the field if he ‘wilfully’ prevents the field from running him out.

But how can an umpire ever truly adjudicate on what is wilful and what is not?

The only way to accurately test whether a batsman intended to cheat justice would be via a Jeremy Kyle style lie detector test – and even that is just 97% accurate, as Jezza hastens to remind us.

Stokes’ arm was held out perpendicular from his body, and there was never any threat of the ball hitting his body – the only threat was to his stumps.

If the ‘obstruction’ law is still pertinent in modern cricket, then surely it was pertinent here.

The important thing is that England’s players do not allow themselves to feel hard-done-by, when – as happened often in the Ashes series – their lack of batting discipline has cost them dearly.

Morgan spoke brazenly before the series of how his side will never play boring cricket.

But rather than spit in the eye of sense, this exciting young team should be focussing on allying their natural tenaciousness with an understanding of the game.

England used to be boring losers.

Morgan is right to focus on eradicating the negativity of times-gone-by, but he mustn’t forget that the most important element of all sport is winning.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyDonleySport

Main image courtesy of Nike Football via YouTube, with thanks.

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