Many top nations have that one attacking spark that drags them out of obscurity, that one match winner capable of changing a game, or that one poacher who nicks a goal from nowhere. Wayne Rooney is supposedly that player for England, but his struggles in previous International tournaments have left him open to criticism.
Is this really down to the management of the team or is the player to blame?
The marked increase in Premier League quality has not shown an increase in English quality which throws out the “they’re playing with better players so they’ll improve” argument. Wayne Rooney has played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Carlos Tevez, but has he ever come close to bettering them? People will argue his position has varied and he is a ‘team player’, but if you’re that good of a striker you’d be played through the middle. In his previous 10 seasons at Manchester United he has only scored 20 or more goals in all competitions on 4 occasions, and that’s with him playing 40 or more games in all but one of those seasons. During that time he has only scored more than 20 in the Premier League on two occasions, yet he is considered England’s best striker, and there is an argument for him to be considered England’s greatest ever striker. If you exclude this season the average number of Premier League games Rooney plays is 31 and the average number of goals scored is 14.
If we were to compare Rooney to the Englishmen in the top 10 Premier League goal scorers list. This list includes the above mentioned Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Alan Shearer, Andrew Cole, Les Ferdinand and finally Teddy Sheringham.
Starting with Michael Owen, the boy wonder that broke through the ranks at Liverpool at an early age. Another player whose career was disrupted and ruined by injuries, and some may say poor career choices. Everybody remembers that goal vs Argentina in the World Cup on 1998. If you look at his Liverpool career to begin with he was an extraordinary talent, 20 plus goals in 5 out of his 7 seasons with the Reds. In all competitions he was averaging 37 appearances and scoring 20 goals. His career tailed off after his move to Madrid, but if you take a look at his stats throughout his whole career it reads he averaged 30 games a season and scored 13 goals. These stats include his bit part roles at Manchester United and Stoke City. Michael Owen is a real life ‘what could have been’ player. If he managed to stay fit it’d be no doubt his record for England as top goal scorer that Rooney would be trying to break right now.
The Toxeth Terror, Robbie Fowler, or as he’s more commonly known around Liverpool ‘God’. He scored 30 or more goals in 3 of his 8 seasons at Liverpool, and yet before his knee ligament injury in 1997/1998 season he’d scored 30 or more in 3 of his 4 seasons at the club. This was a natural born finisher, who before his injury was another worldy. Right foot, left foot, head. He could do it all. In all competitions during his Liverpool career he averages 39 appearances in all competitions each season and scored 20 goals, slightly better than 1 goal every other game. Scary to imagine what those stats would be had it not been for the injury. Prior to his injury, Fowler was averaging 20 Premier League goals a season in 35 games. An injury which opened up the door for previously mentioned Michael Owen. An injury which kept him out of the World Cup in 1998 and meant this prolific striker only made a measly 26 appearances for the national team. It’s safe to say Fowler never properly recovered from that one injury, then leaving Liverpool. Throughout his career he averaged 25 appearances and 12 goals each season, impressive numbers considering his career tailed off towards the end. Once again, very much a ‘what if’ sort of player.
The all-time leading Premier League scorer, Alan Shearer. His stats will probably never be matched again. During his long career he managed to score 260 Premier League goals. In his 20 season career he managed to score 20 or more in 11 of those seasons, and 30 or more in 4. To sustain this goal scoring rate even as he aged is what’s so special, he averaged 36 games a season and an astonishing 18 goals throughout. This in a period when the Premier League was changing and foreign stars were arriving yet Shearer’s performance level stayed the same. Despite such a glorious club career he wasn’t able to replicate that form at international level, yet 30 goals in 63 games is around the same ratio as club level. He went 12 international games without scoring and at one point had 5 goals in 23 games. The one player of those that’s been mentioned so far that stayed generally injury free and he never really left an imprint on the national team like his skill could have.
Andrew (Andy) Cole. The striker managed to score 187 Premier League goals, spent an impressive 7 seasons at Manchester United when they were dominating the Premier League. The Cole-Yorke partnership was one of the best in the league at one point and the Nottingham born Cole managed to score over 20 in all competitions in three consecutive seasons at one point. So how could this striker, during a 7 year spell playing for England, albeit he only made 15 national appearances, only manage to score 1 goal? After leaving Cole out of the 1998 World Cup squad, then England manager Glenn Hoddle made the infamous “he needs six or seven chances to score one goal”. This remark on a player who once scored 5 goals in a single match. Four different England managers called up Cole, so something in his training must have been amiss for him not to be selected, or was it more to do with the players around him? Were they inferior to his Manchester United colleagues so he didn’t perform as well? On average during his career he made 23 appearances each season and scored 10 goals. When you take into account his later years at different clubs those are impressive figures.
Les Ferdinand finished his career with 149 Premier League goals. He had a brief spell in Turkey with Besiktas but aside from that he made himself at home in the Premier League playing for 6 different sides. During his QPR and Newcastle days he was prolific, 20 or more in 4 of the 5 seasons before only hitting double figures in three of the next 9 campaigns. He ended his career with an average of 20 games per season and 8 goals. This goal scoring feat was more durability as opposed to sustainability, scoring 20 plus goals a season wasn’t sustainable for him. Like Andy Cole, his club form couldn’t be transferred internationally. He only made 17 appearances scoring 5 goals, injury played a part in him missing international games.
Finally, the striker who went on forever, Teddy Sheringham. He managed to score 147 Premier League goals in a career that spanned 24 years, 15 of which were in the Premier League. Much like Les Ferdinand, Sheringham’s success was down to durability as throughout his career in England’s top flight he only scored 20 or more in one season, and only hit double figures in 7 of those 15 seasons. He did however finish up with surprisingly good career averages, 27 appearances and 10 goals. On the international stage, alongside Shearer in 1996, Sheringham was a star of Euro 1996. However, aside from that he scored 11 goals in 51 games. Again, not replicating club form alongside better players.
What do these stats tell us? The masquerade that is the Premier League hides the true representation of players and paints them in whatever light they see fit. After all, not many clubs would pay a striker in their peak years £300k a week when they average 14 Premier League goals a season. English premium adds millions to a players value but sadly doesn’t add to goals scored.
Wayne Rooney may be overrated by many, and overpaid in the opinion of certain people. He may not have lived up to his potential when he first burst onto the scene, but these stats put him in amongst some of England’s greatest strikers from the Premier League era, his talent is nothing to be laughed at.