Few weeks have defined Wayne Rooney’s England career and the state of our national game like the last.
Seven days ago, the boy once set up as the great white hope found himself a man primed for an unceremonious fall from grace.
Some suggested grace never existed – Rooney’s failure to find the net at a World Cup, scoring only once in a decade of tournament football since bursting onto the scene at Euro 2004 – seemingly discrediting his position as our national star.
Add to that a demotion to left wing for England’s opening group game against Italy, with starlet Raheem Sterling preferred centrally, and the knives were well and truly out as England prepared to face Uruguay.
A week on, England find themselves eliminated before the knockout stage for the first time since 1958. The headlines have rightly focused on Suarez tearing Cahill and Jagielka apart (without using his teeth), but the game also witnessed Wayne Rooney’s coming of age.
For all the hype surrounding the young English talent, it was the 28-year-old who, by scoring to break his goal duck and fashioning three other chances, proved England’s most potent attacking threat.
And most telling of all, when England fell behind in the dying minutes, it was not skipper Gerrard who forged one final foray, but Rooney. In bulldog fashion, he charged straight from the restart, with a verve, pace and determination that many had thought long gone. Eventually he was fouled just outside the Italian penalty area.
As England slumped to defeat heads fell. Failure writ clearer than previous tournaments for Gerrard, Lampard and the remnants of the old order.
Now aged 34 and 36 respectively, the pair saw out the last twenty minutes of Tuesday’s final group game against Costa Rica, partnering as ineffectively as they did ten years ago. The truth is, Hodgson was left little choice given how poorly his youngsters performed in the final game, their last opportunity to save face.
Both senior players are expected to announce international retirement in the coming weeks, leaving Rooney the most likely to take over the captaincy, with Joe Hart his understudy. The man droppable just days ago is now being readied to lead.
This is no bad thing as Rooney has felt pain internationally and tasted success at club level. Many of the new England squad are scarily inexperienced, so his maturity and battle hardened ways will be vital.
There will be those worried he will not be able handle the pressure of being the main man. In fact, Wayne has always thrived on being treated as king. What he struggles with most is people lacking confidence in him, be it Ferguson, Hodgson, or England fans.
If this week, and England’s World Cup debacle has shown one thing, it’s that Wayne Rooney is ready: tough enough, and good enough as England look to the future.