International Football

Evaluating the pros and cons of Wayne Rooney as a football captain

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Ahh, Wayne Rooney, the newly-dubbed double captain of Manchester United and the England National Team. A few short games into his tenures, his ability to lead from the pitch is already being called into question. As per the norm, Twitter went wild with armchair criticism. His antics even drew the ire of the former X-Factor contestant, paragon of musical genius and Crystal Palace’s most reviled fan, Steve Brookstein.

Fear not, Wayne. I got your back bro.

Pros

Highly-Gifted Footballer

There is simply no doubting his innate qualities as a footballer. We’d all love to see more consistent performances in an England shirt (and thus show us he deserves his place), but his class remains permanent. Rooney has given us a lot of moments to savour, from his delightful chipped finished against Portsmouth in the 2007 FA Cup, to the overhead kick that put Manchester City in their place in 2011, all the way back to when his winning goal broke the streak of Arsenal’s Invincibles, firmly placing him on the map as one of England’s hottest prospects in years.

Being a gifted footballer helps those playing around you play better, as they often look to Rooney to provide a moment of magic capable of changing a game. His work ethic for a while was hard to rival, always running back in search of the ball, making tackles. His determination and ability rank him highly in terms of being captain material.

Experienced and passionate

A good captain at the top level needs passion and two kinds of experience: the experience of winning, and club loyalty. There is no denying that Rooney has passion for football in spades, but I’ll get onto that a little later. The guy gets criticised for running his mouth at his players and officials, but what kind of good captain doesn’t demand more for his teammates? That doesn’t fight for every throw in?

During his 10-year spell at The Red Devils, Rooney has won 13 trophies. Few players in the English game can claim the accolades Rooney has to his name. Some may question his loyalty, bringing up all the bumper contracts he has signed and his transfer requests, but at the end of the day, he’s the most experienced player they have in their ranks and he’s still there. If he really wanted to leave, he would have done a long time ago.

Addressing Certain Cons

Discipline

There seems to be some misconception when it comes to Wayne’s disciplinary record. He has six career red cards. Here’s a list of the current captains of last season’s top 10 Premier League clubs and where they rank when compared to Rooney. Oh, and Lee Cattermole is thrown in there for good measure. All figures are taken from premierleague.com

Someone is beating Cattermole in the red card stakes? The world I knew is gone.

Purely based on top flight club football, Jags is surely all of the haters’ choice for perfect captain, because he rarely gets booked or sent off. In Rooney’s case, it’s clear he gets a lot of yellow cards, probably because he likes to get stuck in, like Kevin Davies always used to. This thing about red cards though, it’s not founded when he’s wearing a red shirt. In this list, the likes of Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard rank lower than he does, with most of those reds likely coming at a time when they were captain.

His England record is pretty poor though. 3 reds in 97 England appearances is pretty bad, especially considering that two of them came for the stamp on Ricardo Carvalho at the 2006 World Cup and the kick on Miodrag Dzudovic against Montenegro in 2011. Hardly the actions of a captain, but again, we’ll come back to his ways in an England shirt later.

Outside of Football

A lot of people, including good old Brookstein above, often criticise Rooney for his public antics, such as that time he solicited sexual relations from two older women, one a mother of 6 and the other a grandmother. That was ten years ago. You want to talk about public image? Everyone was screaming for Steven Gerrard to be England captain all those years ago… the same Gerrard who gets into bar fights? This article claims Rooney isn’t “a John Terry“… the same John Terry who sleeps with people’s wives and racially abuses fellow players? Come off it. A lot of footballers are monumental assholes off the pitch, and have done stupid things; that doesn’t mean they can’t lead.

Legitimate Cons

“Falling into” United Captaincy and The Curious Case of England

While I do believe Wayne Rooney is the correct choice for the United captaincy, I also believe that he fell into it. If it’s not Rooney, who would it be? RVP? Carrick? Fletcher? Jones? They’re all too injury prone, and a captain should be a regular starter. All the other players available aren’t leadership material either. Being the only candidate for a job doesn’t make you the best candidate.

As for his England captaincy, I always felt like it should have been given to Gary Cahill. I’m old fashioned in the sense that I believe that the captain shouldn’t be an attacker. Defenders are natural leaders as they always have to marshal the back line (in England’s case, Gaz Caz), making them ideal captains. For England, other, better options were available. His disciplinary record and God awful performances in a white shirt in recent years makes me consider his position in the England squad, let alone as captain. If he wants to lead England, it’s time he started pumping in consistently world-class displays like we know he can.

The Media

Probably Rooney’s biggest obstacle is the media. Twitter gives regular people the freedom to publicly run their mouth from the safety of their own keyboard, and the two tweets above are but two examples of innumerous hate tweets for Rooney, from people who are supporters of United to those who just have an irrational hatred for him. These articles here are just examples of attacks on Rooney without looking at the facts and the statistics. Rooney has been poor this year? Well, he’s a striker, his job is to score. He’s scored at least double figures in every season in a United shirt, and has 3 in 6 this season. He’s capable of double figures for assists too, like we saw last season, a season where United finished 7th with Rooney’s form as their season’s sole positive.

Henry Winter calls it perfectly in this article. He’s being set up to fail by a media intent on tearing him apart for every mistake he makes, no matter how minor it may be. He hadn’t been sent off for three years. He has curbed his enthusiasm somewhat recently. He’s growing into the role and will have learned from his mistake, but people, in particular United fans, need to get off his back and let him do his job. Judge him, and the whole United/England squads, at the end of the season.

A SmokedSammon prediction-based preview of the 2014 World Cup

Ladies and gentlemen, it is upon us at last. Football’s greatest festival starts on the 12th of June with a match between the host nation and sure-fire favourites Brazil, and Croatia, a solid team praised for nurturing great footballing talent for a nation of it’s size. And already, many micro-stories have developed; Neymar, Brazil’s golden boy, goes over on his ankle in training and remains a doubt for the opener, Eduardo will sing the national anthems of both his birth country Brazil and his national team Croatia before the game, and of course, the riots rage on, continuing to cloud what is supposed to be a wonderful event that serves to bring the world closer, not drive it apart.

As a result, I start off this post by offering a few words on the situation. To those that have been negatively effected in any way by the riots, I speak on behalf of the world when I say our thoughts are with you. Pictures like the one below are examples of things no one wants to see happen, and the emotional and physical harm caused to innocent citizens over the last year by rioting is something I cannot articulate in mere words.

35 buses were set ablaze by rioters in April. Image sourced from http://www.saach.tv

Brazil brought the World Cup back for the first time in 64 years to catalyse a change in fortunes for the largely impoverished nation. Instead, it’s served to only anger the public further. The corrupt democrats in charge have pumped all their resources into the World Cup, leaving those sectors in real need of monetary defibrillation to survive on their own. Indeed, some $10bn has been spent on stadiums and infrastructure alone. How dearly could those in need have used a mere fraction of that money? And, given this state of affairs, is the World Cup affordable? Will it leave the country in a more dire situation than before? As someone who doesn’t claim to be a financial expert, I’m not really in a position to answer these questions, but I assume those in charge will have to at some point, as more and more people, enraged by a corrupt, ethically uneducated and financially unstable system, continue to be ravaged by racism and poverty, and prove that the face we see of a nation that is all about samba, heat, partying, women, and of course football, is nothing more than a facade.

Nevertheless, the show must, and will, go on. As a result, I shall now proceed to not predict the path of the World Cup. Indeed, I have learned my lesson from the last time I tried to do that.

The Small Matter of England

What will the starting line-up be against Italy?

This question can be answered two ways: 1) Who I want to start, and 2) Who Roy Hodgson will actually select. Below are the answers to both of those questions.

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                                                                            2)ScreenHunter_04 Jun. 10 16.28

I have gone for the line-up that I feel that most people would like to see walk out in the first game; a standard back 5, a Gerrard-Henderson central partnership, starts for Lallana, Barkley, and Sterling, and a complete lack of Wayne. I don’t feel the need to justify this too much, but this, in terms of momentum and form from the Premier League season just gone by, is our strongest XI. Plenty of attacking guile and creativity, Gerrard pulling the strings, and Henderson doing the legwork. The back 4 looks suspect, but it’s more or less the best we have available to us.

My prediction for Hodgson’s XI is based in a couple of things. Firstly, the infatuation with HAVING to playing Rooney, as staggeringly unbelievable as it is after the completely uninteresting season he has had, is present, and we have to deal with it. Crow-barring Rooney in the side is seemingly Hodgson’s priority if recent friendlies are anything to go by, so expect to see Wayne fill in at right-back if Glen gets injured just to squeeze him in (you never know, it might work, not hard to be a better defender than Glen is it). Secondly, is a similar infatuation with Wilshere as the saviour of our central midfield. This isn’t necessarily Hodgson’s problem, but the country seems to love him to bits, so I could see Hodgson going with him. I have so many issues with this; he’s barely played this season and, given how much of a glass cannon he is and how people target him, it’s a bit like putting a plate of Jaffa Cakes (other cakes/biscuits are available) in front of a 7 year old and telling them not to eat them. Not to mention, what do people see in him exactly? 4 assists from 29 games for someone who supposedly has such a great eye for a pass is poor. All I see him do is run forward with the ball and give it away, it’s frustrating. He mustn’t start. Finally, the inclusion of Welbeck in friendly teams is very divisive. His record for England speaks volumes; 8 in 23 is decently prolific for someone stuck in a left midfield position. However, I would not consider any Manchester United player for the starting XI. They’ve been dreadful this season, and none of them should feel entitled to starting place just because of the badge they wear on weekends. You have to earn your place, and Sterling, Lallana, and Barkley have all done that.

How far will England get?

I wasn’t entertaining the idea of anything above 3rd place (in the group, of course) up until this recent bout of friendlies. Italy however, have lost a crucial player to a broken leg in Montolivo (we wish him a speedy recovery). A 0-0 against Ireland and a shock 1-1 against Luxembourg of all teams sees them enter the tournament with precisely no momentum. At this stage, I can’t see them trouncing us, and a draw could see it go down to goal difference for second place, and we can do that. Uruguay will win the group with 9 points, of course, but 4 points and a lot of goals will see us through. I would then expect a match against Colombia, and on paper, the two are very evenly matched. Should we beat them, the quarter finals would see us more than likely face Brazil, and that is as far as I could see us going. Realistically, reaching the last 16 can be seen as a relatively successful campaign.

Who will be top scorer?

I’ve earmarked five potential top scorers for this tournament. Some come as no shock, some do.

Neymar

As much as his injury scare could throw this into doubt, and as much as I strongly dislike the little wussbag (1. n. bag of wuss), he is Brazil’s star man, and his record of 31 goals in 49 appearances speaks volumes of his ability to conjure goals. The Confederations Cup Player of the Tournament goes into the World Cup as the man to take the Golden Boot from.

Fred

Looking to steal Neymar’s spotlight is strike partner Fred, who has come right back into the fold in recent years after a baron patch in his career between 2006 and 2010. Now that he is back firing on all cylinders, and fresh from being joint top scorer with Fernando Torres at the Confederations Cup with 5 goals, he can be considered a real threat to opposition defences.

Miroslav Klose

As sentimental as this selection may be, Klose has the opportunity to go down in World Cup history. Currently on 14 goals, he needs 2 goals to beat Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals at World Cups. No one will be hungrier for goals than Klose.

Lionel Messi

He’s in the very lucky position of having accomplished everything there is to do at club level at the age of 26. He has 86 appearances for Argentina and 39 goals, but only 1 at a World Cup, in the 6-0 drubbing of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Trust me, he will be as motivated as anyone there to cap of his gleaming collection of medals and trophies with a World Cup win, and the conditions will suit him down to a tee. But first, he has to break his scoring drought, and I can see him doing that in fine style in a group Argentina are set to walk through.

Edin Dzeko

My surprise inclusion here is Edin Dzeko. In the same group as Argentina, he will be up against Iran and Nigeria, and with a record of 35 goals in 62 games, he’s more than capable of causing severe damage. Providing they fend off Nigeria for second, which I predict they will easily, they’re likely to meet Switzerland or France in the last 16, and again, Dzeko can make them pay too. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Honourable Mentions

Probably the biggest omission is Luis Suarez. After the season he has had, the momentum he is carrying into the World Cup is tremendous, and he is also someone acclimatised to the heat and humidity of South America. He is however, in a group with Italy and England, who tend not to roll over easily.

Similarly, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t make the list. His group is very difficult much like Suarez’s (Germany, Ghana, USA), and Portugal have been wholeheartedly unimpressive in qualifying. He’ll need his team to up their game if he wants to progress out of the group stages and score goals.

The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard miss out too. With Lukaku potentially out for the first two group stage games, his task could prove too difficult, and Eden Hazard, despite a quality season for Chelsea, only has 6 international goals from 45 games, which is simply not good enough.

Last tournaments’ Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller also doesn’t make the cut. He’s been totally anonymous this season, and, despite being excellent for Germany overall, Joachim Low could opt against starting Muller altogether. We’ve sen both Gotze and Schurrle play down the middle, and Klose and Podolski are both experience international strikers.

Finally, Brazilian-come-Spaniard Diego Costa doesn’t make the list. A big advantage he has over other European strikers is… he’s Brazilian. This will feel more homely for him. Currently being treated for a hamstring injury though, he may not be match fit, by which point Vicente del Bosque may have already decided to stick with his tried and trusted false 9 formula which bought him the European Championship in 2012. Then there’s the question of whether he’ll fit into the tiki taka style of play, and also his lack of international experience.

Surprise Packages?

I touched upon Dzeko being a surprise contender before, and I would like to extend that to Bosnia and Herzegovina. They should finish 2nd in their group, and a game against Switzerland or France could see them advance to the quarter finals, some achievement given they were nearly banned from competing in 2011 by FIFA, which would surely have set them back.

People keep talking about Belgium as surprise contenders. With their squad, what exactly is a surprise? If they got 9 points from Russia, South Korea, and Algeria, I would be totally unsurprised. If their beat second place in Group G, likely Portugal or Ghana, again, not surprised. They should make the quarter finals at least with their team. A more likely surprise would be if the Netherlands could repeat 4 years ago and beat Brazil, provided they can advance from a tough group B.

My major pick for a surprise though is Ghana. The World Cup 2010 semi-finalists* could go all the way there again this time if recent dominant results in friendlies give any indication. With Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan back out of retirement, their side is full strength, and I would love to see them get retribution for that act of footballing terrorism.

The Winners?

It’s boring to say Brazil or Argentina, but they’re too obvious to look past. However, I do fancy Germany to go the distance, their team is ridiculously strong and they all have a lot to prove given a lack of international trophies since 1990.

Everything said, let’s try and enjoy the World Cup as a united World. We can joke about Martin Demichelis and watch in awe as Luis Suarez commits sin again. Our jaws can drop to the floor as one as Ross Barkley spanks one into the top corner from 25 yards, and we can cry in unison when we do tumble out. But let us not forget about the tragedies and realities the World Cup is bringing, and pray that in the end, football can bring everyone together and to their senses, and someone does the right thing.

*Uruguay don’t count

The story of football’s secret title

I start this article with a question. Which title has been held by both Brazil and Curacao (formerly Dutch Antilles)? Has been defended successfully by England more times than Argentina and Germany? Has been held by 48 different nations? A title Scotland has had more success with than any other nation? Not got it yet?

It’s Friday 30th May. Uruguay take on Northern Ireland in what would seem like any ordinary friendly. However, there are penalties if the game ends in a draw. People across the country take to the internet to find out why, and notice there is something on the line.

“Northern Ireland can win something tonight. Their friendly against Uruguay will see the winner take home a trophy, could see penalties.” – @FullPitchPress on 30/05/2014

What is this trophy? Well, Uruguay are the current holders of the Unofficial Football World Champions (UFWC) title, spawned in 1872 and virtually manifested by the CW Alcock Trophy, and a goal from Christian Stuani secured a successful defence over the Northern Irish. They won on the 16th October 2013 in a stunning back-and-forth encounter with Argentina, ending 3-2, their 17th of 19 (and counting) UFWC victories. Let’s first lay down the rules: a nation wins the title by defeating the current title holder, winning one ranking point in the process. A draw sees the title remain with the holders, though draws do not contribute a ranking point. The title is defended in every single international “A” match played by the holder, be it a friendly, qualifier, or World Cup final. The title has it’s own official reptilian mascot called Hughie and even an array of merchandise.

Below is a table of the top 10 most successful nations, and the results may seem a little surprising.

ScreenHunter_02 May. 31 18.31

*Adapted from Ranking table at http://www.ufwc.co.uk/rankings/.

You are reading that correctly: in it’s most unofficial sense, Scotland are the best team on God’s green Earth, with England a close second. 48 years of hurt my backside, right? It’s not quite as clear cut as that, it never is. We’ve haven’t held the title since 1975, which spanned from the first victory against West Germany in March until a 2-1 loss to the former Czechoslovakia in October. Since then, we’ve had four shots at the title, the first being the unforgettable loss to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup on penalties, then a loss to France in a friendly at Wembley in 1999, followed up by draws in friendlies against France (1-1) in 2000, and the Netherlands (2-2) in 2009. So really, it’s only 39 years of hurt and counting, thanks Baddiel and Skinner. In fact, the legitimacy of the table has come under scrutiny from many sides, as a lot of Scotland and England’s points came before the inception of the World Cup, where there was a lack of competitive opposition and the two spent the better part of 60 years trading victories, in matches solely competed between nations of the British Isles until Hungary got a shot in 1909. But hey, who are we to complain?

The first ever UFWC match was England vs Scotland, and, in an exact mirror of modern day British Isles-based football, it was a dour 0-0. Their second encounter ended in a 4-2 victory to England, so yes, we we’re the first (unofficial) world champions. The first non-Isles nation to capture the UFWC title was Austria in 1931, winning it from Scotland in style with a thumping 5-0 win. A full match report can be read here. The first team outside of Europe to clinch their first title victory was the USA, beating England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup, only to lose their newly-won honour THREE DAYS later in a 5-2 thrashing by Chile. As mentioned earlier, Curacao won their only title as Netherlands Antilles. This puts them level on wins with a much bigger footballing nation: Mexico. Mexico had won their title from Czechoslovakia in June of 1962 and held it for the next 9 months undefended, until one of the shocks of competitive football saw Netherlands Antilles beat them 2-1 for their title in June 1963 at the CONCACAF Cup in El Salvador, an own goal by Jesús del Muro proving all too costly for the Mexicans.

As I have already mentioned, England haven’t held the title since 1975 and have only had four opportunities since then to reclaim it. Well, shot number five could well be around the corner. If Uruguay can overcome Slovenia on Thursday 5th June, the UFWC will make its 12th appearance at the World Cup, a competition in which no team has entered with the title and walked out with it still wrapped around the proverbial waistline, the Netherlands coming closest by reaching the final in 1974 and 2010 before being defeated by West Germany and Spain respectively. The first defence would be against Costa Rica, and provided that there are no shocks there, England are next in line. Can they take our tally to 74 victories in the group stages of the World Cup? We shall have to wait and see if they can defy the odds against Uruguay and reclaim the title which we held before anyone else.

All statistics sourced from the UFWC wesbite at http://www.ufwc.co.uk.