Wayne Rooney's comments on Ravel Morrison being better than Paul Pogba by a "country mile" have garnered much attention.
However, that was not the only key line in the Derby County player's column. That was found here:
He's [Morrison] proof that you can't escape the fact there are guidelines every player has to obey in professional football. Some players live right on the edge of them but stick just inside and still succeed.
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The quote read, to this observer, in the first person, a reference to Rooney's own career. If that holds, then it is a striking admission. Generational players do not, as Rooney suggests he did, straddle the guidelines set forth by others. They hold themselves to the highest of self-imposed standards. Rooney had the talent to be a generational player; a player to be venerated as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi will be as the decades pass. Yet, there is chasm between their standings within the game.
For clarity, it is important to note that Wayne Rooney has had an exceptional career. This is a player who has won multiple league titles, won the European Cup and will retire as Manchester United's and England's leading goalscorer. However, it can also hold that he has not fulfilled his ample potential.
For, the feeling persists that Rooney could have eked more from his body. That might seem harsh, but the talent Rooney possessed dictates that his career should be measured against the highest standards.
And those standards are set by his former team-mate Ronaldo. Why? Well, there was, of course, a debate, roughly a decade ago, as to who was the better player. It seems almost laughable now. The debate becomes a little less laughable when it is crystallised down to who was the more talented player. It remains a debate with no definite answer. And the gulf in those two debates answers the question as to whether Rooney fulfilled his potential: the answer is no and by a distance.
The fact Rooney's most impressive showing in the international arena came at the Euros in 2004, when he was still an Everton player, demonstrates both the level of his potential at such a tender age and his inability to capitalise on it in the peak years of his career. Granted, there were mitigating factors, but his showings at international tournaments from that peak in Portugal were largely forgettable.
Alongside those mitigating circumstances, lies further context. Rooney, in this opinion, lived right on the edge of the guidelines, wavered at times and, as such, did not fulfil his incredible potential.
There are instances that add weight to the argument that Rooney had strayed outside these guidelines; like when he was dropped on New Year's Eve in 2011 for, what boss Sir Alex Ferguson saw as a "lethargic” showing in training following Christmas celebrations and in 2013, for the crucial Champions League second-leg tie against Real Madrid, he was once again jettisoned to the bench. Louis van Gaal also dropped him during his tenure. It is a failure of professionalism to be dropped for training indiscretions, and a failure that has not punctuated the careers of Ronaldo or Messi. Again this is not to say Rooney has not, did not and does not make huge sacrifices for his craft but has he made total sacrifice for his craft? Only very few can and fewer want to.
Perhaps comparing Rooney against players who will define a generation is harsh, so what of someone like Frank Lampard? A player with a comparable career to Rooney having won multiple league titles, the European Cup and retired as Chelsea's leading goalscorer. Who was the more talented player? It would be difficult to construct an argument for Lampard. Yet, their careers are of roughly the same trajectory, a testament perhaps to Lampard's legendary work-ethic.
Greatness is defined by both talent and an unrelenting and laser focus on that greatness. Rooney had the talent but the laser focus at times relented. This is not a criticism as such, more an observation of fact. Rooney says in his own column that Ferguson said focus "was the hardest thing in life". It is what separates the great from the borderline great. Rooney had the potential to be an all-time great but fell marginally short. And that is why he remains England's great unfulfilled talent.
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