Rooney starts for England (and Owen tries to remember when he was that good.)

onenil.gif Wayne Rooney’s eyes darted around him like a nervous criminal before he took the pitch against Turkey this past Wednesday. He looked stiff and scared. At seventeen, he was among the youngest to ever start for the English National Team and in one day, he proved himself to the world.

Damn. He’s good.

And England look good with him on the field. Rooney, the bane of Arsenal fans, impressed the hell out of everybody including me and I’m Arsenal through and through. He won the Man of the Match, he dazzled with his skill and he put Michael Owen, teammate and Liverpool-star striker to shame.

He has been touted as the next great thing in English soccer and there is little reason to doubt this. I was impressed, even if he looked like a deer caught in headlights before the match and for most of the first few minutes. In fact, he wasn’t even told he would be starting for the team until four hours before the match to help keep his mind as clear as possible. It was a trial by fire in every aspect.

The English fan is not exactly the most tolerant. For Rooney to be embraced by them, it took a lot and he delivered. Not with a goal. With solid play from a
fireplug striker.

In the last World Cup, England came up short due to a semi-final knockout by eventual winners Brazil, now four time winners of the World Cup. So, it wasn’t such a bad way to go out. Disappointing for those of us who had an interest in seeing England reach the final, but I guess you take the good with the bad. With Rooney on the pitch, it looks good.

The last youth talent that comes to memory that made such an impact was Michael Owen in the 1998 World Cup. He displayed a talent that made fans drool, maybe a bit too much. His career since has taken quite a drop. He has consistently missed shots and crosses for Liverpool. He has been on the back pages for his supposed gambling exploits and in interviews he seems bitter and cold. The English press is roasting him over the proverbial fire and it seems to be throwing him off his game. Or maybe it’s the supposed 50,000 pounds he lost during the World Cup that’s on his mind. Either way, he has gone from England darling to target for the cynical press in Europe.

Rooney has all of the makings of a star striker. He is quick, tough and has a deadly accuracy with his shots. Some call him a natural finisher, but he looks more like a virtuoso on the field as he powers through the defense towards goal. He has every skill that boosted Owen to national recognition. He’ll be lucky to make it and not get run over by the press stampeding behind him. But, for every Owen, there’s a David Beckham or a Sol Campbell, cool in the face of criticism and strongwilled. Rooney’s play won’t be enough if he fails to live up to expectations. He’ll need a think skin. Not just a good finishing touch.