Love him or hate him for his club allegiance, masses of wealth or for his questionable intellect, as an international striker Wayne Rooney deserves our respect.
50 goals in 107 internationals. Most of them in qualifiers, with the largest number against a single team being five in all matches against San Marino, true. Without them, however, I shudder at the thought of England trying to pick their way through troublesome groups. In this qualification campaign for example, he’s been responsible for seeing England to single goal away victories against the mighty forces of Estonia and Slovenia.
Given the abuse he has received and will continue to get, we should be very grateful he bothered and didn’t call a Paul Scholes on it all.
So what milestones are there to reach for Rooney now (considering that with the lack of squad depth or tournament nous, a major trophy at international level is sadly somewhat unlikely). There’s the England outfield caps record held by David Beckham at 115. There’s Peter Shilton’s 125 caps, the overall England record.
On the continent, there’s the all-time European international goalscorer. Ferenc Puskas scored 84, back in the days when keepers didn’t wear gloves, and anything up to committing GBH on them was considered a reasonable part of the game. In the more modern era, World Cup heading legend Miroslav Klose scored 71 in 137 appearances, playing international football until he was 36. A standard for Rooney to aim for?
Certainly Rooney can aim for Robbie Keane. Still playing for Ireland – though not a regular – the LA Galaxy sharp shooter stands on 67 goals in 142 games. If a man who failed at Liverpool beats out a Manchester United star and Everton trainee, there will be unpleasantness in the Rooney household.
There is one man, however, that Rooney will struggle to overcome. The all time international top scorer. Ladies and gentlemen, let me briefly tell you the tale of Ali Daei.
An Iranian international, who tore up the leagues in the Middle East before a mildly successful tour of Germany, featuring a year at Bayern Munich, he is the only man to have scored a century in international football. 109 goals in 149 games. If Rooney can up his game and match that rate in his final games for his country, Euro 2016 will be a walkover.
Daei’s rate of scoring boggles the modern footballing mind. In two years, he scored more goals than he played international matches: 1996 (22 goals in 18 games) and 2000 (20 in 19). This is partly because the Asian qualification campaign is generally longer than the European one, and the quality of opponent – while generally higher than San Marino – is not so sharp.
Daei’s first two goals for Iran came in separate 6-0 victories over Chinese Taipei, world ranking 179. He broke Puskas’ international record with a strike against Lebanon, and passed into three figures and footballing history by putting four past Laos, the world number 174. He also never scored a goal in a World Cup, with Iran making it to 1998 and 2006 with him leading the line.
He is, nevertheless, a revered figure in his homeland, for his record breaking talents, for inspiring people to take up the game. A little like Rooney has. Perhaps Rooney, for his San Marino beating abilities, deserves more love.
by Matthew Smith