Tributes pour in for 'legend' Rooney as he bows out of international game
Wayne Rooney was hailed yesterday as an England "icon" and "legend" after retiring from international football to prioritise ending his career on a high with boyhood club Everton.
The 31-year-old, who was still England captain and is the all-time record goalscorer, had previously planned to retire after next summer's World Cup, but has rejected Gareth Southgate's invitation to return for the qualifying matches against Malta and Slovakia.
Rooney had not been selected in Southgate's two previous squads and, having felt revitalised following his summer move from Manchester United back to Everton, informed the new manager that he no longer wished to be considered for selection.
His physical condition has been a subject of considerable debate throughout his career and, following discussions with his family and Everton manager Ronald Koeman, it was decided that the added rest during international breaks could prolong his playing time.
Rooney, though, did later open the door on returning to the England set-up in some sort of future non-playing role and he is adamant that the next generation will soon deliver in a summer tournament finals.
"I will always remain a passionate England fan," said Rooney.
"One day, the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan - or in any capacity."
Rooney's England career spanned 14 years and while his achievements were considerable, he also acknowledged the ongoing disappointment at recent performances in major competitions.
"One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side," said Rooney.
In truth, his England career peaked remarkably early at the age of 18, in 2004 when he scored four goals in helping England reach the quarter-finals of the European Championship before being forced out with a broken metatarsal.
He was then sent off against Portugal in the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup and, despite a record 30 goals in tournament qualifying for England, only scored once in a World Cup finals.
Rooney's England career still ends with a remarkable 53 goals in 119 appearances, leaving only goalkeeper Peter Shilton with more caps on 125.
Having also finished his Manchester United career this summer after 13 seasons, Rooney has made a positive start to the Premier League season at Everton with goals in matches against Stoke City and Manchester City.
He had previously seen how his former Manchester United team-mates Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had enhanced their club careers by retiring from international football and with Everton at the forefront of his mind, he decided the time was now right.
"It was great that Gareth Southgate called me this week to tell me he wanted me back in the England squad for the upcoming matches; I really appreciated that," said Rooney.
"However, having already thought long and hard, I told Gareth that I had now decided to retire for good from international football.
"It is a really tough decision and one I have discussed with my family, my manager at Everton and those closest to me. I believe now is the time to bow out. Playing for England has always been special to me. Every time I was selected as a player or captain was a real privilege and I thank everyone who helped me."
Rooney will retire from England with a debate still raging about his place among the country's greatest footballers.
No outfield player has more caps and he has surpassed Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker for goals, but his so-called Golden Generation never made it past a quarter-final of a major tournament.
Southgate will announce his squad today and add his voice to the tributes that were paid yesterday by the great and good of the English game.
Lineker referred to Rooney's selfless style and described him as "a player's player" in asserting that his international career had been "magnificent".
Michael Owen said his former England team-mate had timed the decision perfectly. "Always great to go out on top," he said.
Harry Kane, who has taken over from Rooney as the captain and star striker, described his predecessor as "a Three Lions legend".
Having begun his England career with Owen, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Scholes and Rio Ferdinand, Rooney's departure also represents the end of an era for the England national team.
It was an era that promised much but will ultimately always feel collectively unfulfilled. (©The Daily Telegraph, London)