I was intrigued by this excellent piece over at Football365 by Twisted Blood.
I've blogged about how we view youth talent before covering Cole, Walcott and Sterling.It is increasingly the case that we do not view their achievements normally. We view them against some imagined future. We consider them against what might have been. They will always fall short. They play in the shadow of what we hoped they would become.
Consider Rooney. Here is a player who has scored 33 goals in 79 games for England at the age of 27. Here is a player who averages roughly a goal every two games for Manchester United and who has scored nearly 200 goals for that club.
He has won four Premier League titles and is likely to win a fifth this year. He's won a Champions League title. That's before we count the League Cups, the various other club trophies and bucketloads of individual awards.
If you offered that to most footballers they would crawl over broken Krug bottles to bite your hand off. There is, however, in English football the prevailing thought that Rooney is a disappointment. Why? Because he doesn't measure up to what we hoped for him.
I remember Rooney before he pulled on the blue of Everton. The buzz around Liverpool was enormous. This boy was going to do keep-ups with the world itself. He was going to propel Everton back to the top of English football. He was the next Dixie Dean. He was going to make the recent striking geniuses of the city - Owen and Fowler - look like Danny Cadamarteri He was, as the song went before he'd kicked a ball, ''gonna get you''. It was a message to the rest of the world.
His first goal backed up everything we had expected.
A wonderful first touch and an outrageous dipping, curling, whipping effort. The boy had announced himself to the world. He looked like a footballer from the old school. He played like he was still playing in the streets. Who could stop him?
Rooney was supposed to be England's phenomenon. The weightlifter with the touch of an angel, the bull who polished the china. A once in a generation player that combined touch and poise with power and heft. Briefly, at Euro 2004, he looked utterly unplayable. And because he is no longer unplayable, because he is merely a very good - arguably a great - player that acrid whiff of disappointment settles upon him.
As Twisted Blood notes, we aren't really disappointed with Rooney. Rather we feel that we have been robbed of something. We feel that Rooney should have been a combination of HotShot Hamish, Mighty Mouse and Roy Race. We burdened him with expectation and when he becomes, as he inevitably will, England's all time top goalscorer we'll be annoyed he didn't do it quickly enough or with enough hat-tricks against Germany in a World Cup Final.
We invest too much in too many of our young players. We burden them and, in the long-run, we are the ones who end up disappointed. We are constantly searching for the hero that will lead us out of the doldrums and to glory. English football has a narrative that we were once kings of the world and we will be again. This will likely be inspired by one great player rather than a golden generation. We expect it, we deserve it. We, like Maimondies, believe in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he is tarrying we still wait for him patiently - or, more correctly, assume every bright young spark is the Messiah.
We watched Gascoigne and we learnt nothing. We watched Joe Cole and learnt nothing. We watched Owen and learnt nothing. There is a case for saying the worst thing that ever happened to Owen was not allowing Scholes to disrupt that goal against Argentina.
Some have done the same with Walcott. Walcott is the one of those players who, upon dominating a game, isn't praised but rather attacked for not doing it more often . More have done the same with Sterling. Too many do it with Wilshere (I am guilty). Being a wonderful player is not enough.
And, perversely, we have learnt nothing from Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick, Scholes, Ashley Cole and Beckham. None of these players were hyped in the way Cole, Owen, Walcott and Rooney were. Most of them have shone brightly for much of their careers.
Lampard and Carrick were utterly outshone, at West Ham, by the impending genius of Joe Cole. Liverpool fans invested more energy in Michael Owen than Steven Gerrard.
Scholes, rated by all but hyped by few, is the least English player over the last 30 years and we all seem to miss the genius in our midst.
It goes without saying that Rooney is a bloody brilliant player. That he is eclipsed by Messi, Iniesta and Ronaldo is hardly a sin. We are lucky to have him. It isn't his fault we decided he would rule the world before we'd seem him a kick a ball.