LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 24 – England manager Gareth Southgate has paid tribute to Wayne Rooney’s “fantastic career” after the Everton forward retired from international duty.
Rooney announced on Wednesday that he was bringing down the curtain on his England era after scoring 53 goals in 119 appearances.
Southgate had called Rooney to offer him a place in the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia in September.
But instead former Manchester United star Rooney told Southgate he wanted to concentrate on club football following his close-season move back to Everton.
“I know I speak for everyone when I congratulate him on a fantastic international career,” Southgate told reporters on Thursday.
“He said he had been thinking long and hard about the decision and he had decided he was going to announce his international retirement.
“We then talked for another half an hour about why I was calling and the possible role I saw him fulfilling because I think as a manager you always want to prod to see ‘has he thought about this decision?’.
“He clearly had and I totally understood his reasoning, moving to Everton and the fresh opportunity he has got there.
“I thought there was a role that he could play for the squad but by the same token I fully understand his rationale.”
Rooney is England’s all-time leading scorer and most capped outfield player, yet some question whether he deserves to be ranked among his country’s all-time greats because of his disappointing performances at major tournaments.
England never made it past the quarter-finals of the World Cup or European Championships with Rooney in the side.
– ‘Door always open’ –
But Southgate, who had begun easing Rooney out of the squad last season, insisted the 31-year-old deserved to be ranked alongside England icons like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Gary Lineker.
“It would be a good moment to recognise what an outstanding player he has been for England,” Southgate said.
“I have seen some debate around ‘is he a legend or isn’t he?’.
“If you are the most capped outfield player and the record goalscorer I’m not sure what else you have to do to be called a legend.
“He has represented his country with incredible pride and has kept coming back even when there has been a lot of criticism towards him, and his level of performance has been outstanding.”
It is a measure of Southgate’s respect for Rooney that he even left the door open for a possible return to the England squad if he changes his mind about retiring in the future.
“I said the door was always open and because of the way he has been playing at the beginning of the season he is in the right frame of mind, that’s why I made the call this time,” he said.
“I don’t see why you ever shut the door on anything as players.”
Southgate also said he would be willing to bring Rooney into the England set-up if he wants to go into coaching once he hangs up his boots for good.
“He’s been a pleasure to work with and I am sure at some point in the future there could be some involvement with England,” he added.
“I think generally we’re trying to engage former England players more than we have done in the past. Help them along their coaching pathway if that’s the way they want to go.”