Chris Sutton’s reaction to Wayne Rooney being handed a testimonial game in an England shirt against the USA on Thursday probably typifies one of the things that is wrong with English football today.
The former Chelsea player said: “I’m tempted to ring up the FA and ask if I can play 10 minutes against the United States so I can win my second England cap. This match is now nothing more than an exhibition.
“Surely this is not the way a great competitor wants to bow out. It’s actually a bit patronising.
“It is surprising that Gareth Southgate has agreed to this. It flies in the face of his intent to build for England’s future. This match should be a chance for the manager to see what his promising youngsters can do and further develop his vision ahead of the European Championship in 2020. “
“This smacks of a gimmick to drum up interest in a friendly against a side who did not qualify for the World Cup and to sell tickets. If anything, this would convince me not to buy one.”
Mr. Sutton is certainly entitled to his opinion. But he probably belongs to another one of those from the bandwagon that suggests that international friendlies should not take place. They feel that international friendlies and international breaks in the middle of club games are a waste of time.
It isn’t just Mr. Sutton, but the whole of the social media is ablaze with comments against Rooney’s testimonial. They feel its needless and they have no right to turn a friendly game into a testimonial game. And they perhaps are the same people who criticise international breaks.
Now if this were the early 1980s and Sir Bobby Charlton was being handed a testimonial in the same way, no social media would have existed and no one would have questioned it anywhere. If it were Gary Lineker being handed the same testimonial, in the 1990s, no questions would have been raised. It would have silently gone on and the former Tottenham forward would have been given a fitting tribute.
Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, has been a man who is probably unlucky to have played football in the age of the social media. Everything he has done has set Twitter on fire. Nothing has gone unnoticed, much like how nothing in general goes unnoticed in the social media. He’s a man who’s made more appearances than Lineker and Charlton and has scored more goals than them in a Three Lions shirt. He’s been one of the most legendary figures in the history of the English game and while his career was not short of controversies, Rooney has always played with his heart on the sleeve.
He might not have won the World Cup, but Germany had given Lukas Podolski a testimonial against England themselves last year, when the former Arsenal man had made the third most appearances for his national side. Rooney was Manchester United’s highest goalscorer, remember and is one of the great icons of the club. He was unplayable on his day. Injuries did affect him at late stages of his career, but Rooney was one of the best in the world at one point.
But imagine Rooney having this testimonial in the 1990s. It would have been a fitting tribute to a man who has been the country’s highest goalscorer ever and has won most number of caps for them. People would have bowed down to him for the career he would have had in that generation, even if he had asked to leave Manchester United and even if he abused the cameras after scoring a hat-trick against West Ham in 2011.
And that is the problem with social media. It fails to give credit when due. It takes away the ‘right to forget’ from people, let alone footballers. No wonder Rooney’s tweet about picking up Rio Ferdinand is still one of the most viral tweets from a footballer. Every negative is magnified to an extent where the big positives are nullified. The social media has made such a mess of Rooney’s reputation that they forget that he was the best striker in the world at one point.
That is the reason why Michael Owen is not recognized as an England legend today. He won the Ballon D’or in 2001, but that has never been talked about as much as his comments as an expert are. People have long forgotten how brilliant a player he was during his good days and they are more into slamming every comment he makes on television.
There lies an irony in Rooney’s comments in the pre-game press conference. He tipped Harry Kane for achieving what he has. The Liverpool born star said: “This is the first time and I hope that in 10 or 15 years time we’re sat here for someone, say Harry Kane, who could possibly go on and get the goalscoring record and it’ll be something which will happen again.”
With the social media’s influence increasing with every passing day, will Harry Kane ever be remembered for his contributions? No. He would be made a meme very soon. 10 or 15 years on, people will forget about the fact that he was one of the best in the world at a point, won the Golden Boot in the FIFA World Cup and captained the side to the World Cup semi-final when no expected them to go there.
All they’ll remember is his laughing at the way he speaks, the way he claimed that goal against Stoke last season and his failure to win trophies at Tottenham so far. That will be a sad sight. Thanks to the social media, very few will find it sad 10 or 15 years on from today.