12 October 2014

Wilshere and Rooney debate the Three Lions' performance

TALINN, Estonia—It was a tense but relieved dressing room after England had finally found a way to break down and defeat a determined Estonia side to make it three wins in as many tries to stay atop Group E. Despite England's clear superiority on paper, it took a 73rd minute free-kick from captain Wayne Rooney to secure the three points. As the lads prepared for the flight home, the grizzled veteran basked in a victory he had done so much to earn. Sure, some might ask, with England still nearly two years away from competing in Euro 2016 and the 2016 Olympics and four years away from the next World Cup, why is a 28-year old still captaining a squad so full of younger, hungrier talents? There would be time to ponder such questions later. At the moment, it is time to bask in the win. Just as that thought eased Rooney's mind, one of the younger upstarts made his way over: Wilshere.

     "Roo."
     "Jack."
     "Helluva match, eh? Didn't know those Estonians would have the stones to stick to us so tight."
     "Right. I saw 'em off rightly, though. Nothin' to fear."
     Wilshere rubbed the back of his neck, as if a bit uncomfortable. "Right. We got the win, that's what matters, innit?"
     It was Rooney's turn to pause this time. Cocking his head to the side, he regarded the young gun as one might a snake that may or may not be venomous. "Right. Well, we done it. That's wha' matters in the end."
     There was an awkward pause as each man contemplated the pregnancy of the moment. At one end there was one of England's top goal-scorers, at once illustrious and facing a twilight; at the other was one of England's shining lights, glowing but not yet shining bright. It was into the breach that the captain stepped.
     "What's on your mind, Jack?"
     At first, Wilshere didn't respond. He contemplated the carpet before turning a sidelong glance at Rooney. The seconds ticked away, metronymically, as each man weighed the significance of the gulf that separated them.
     "Jack?"
     Wilshere snapped out of his reverie. "Well...I...it's just that—"
     Rooney recoiled. "What? What is it already?"
     Wilshere regarded his captain warily. "Sorry, Wayne. Gimme a sec."
     At that, Rooney sighed and went back to undressing. He had better things to do than to entertain starlets, even those who had shone as much as this one had. The only sound for the next few moments was the ticking of the clock, the rustling of a duffel bag, and a few prolonged exhalations. Finally, Wilshere spoke.
     "Wayne."
     "What?"
     Despite his palpable irritation, Wilshere pressed on. "It's just that—well, I don't know—it's just that we should've put that game away earlier on. I feel like I created a few chances that—"
     "Oh, so that's it, is it? Truth comes out now, in all its glory? Saints be praised! All hail the comin' of Wilshere!"
     "Wayne, it's not like that. Calm yourself. It's just that I feel like I—we—should've done better."
     Rooney gave Wilshere a cock-eyed look. "Look, moppet, you made some nice passes, there's no doubt about that. Maybe I might've done better on one or two, but mind yourself, now. I've been 'round the block more times than most. Gerrard might have done one or two better than you, bet on it."
     Wilshere inhaled deeply in preparation for this next bit. "Look, Wayne, we all appreciate what you've done, what with the donkey work and all, but..."
     "But what?"
     "Easy now. All's I'm saying is there's room for improvement, right? We've got some good young players coming up now, what with myself and Gibbs and Welbeck and—"
     Again, Rooney recoiled. "Ohhh, so that's it. I see it now, don't I? 'Arsenal take over England's national team.' I can just see the headlines. Go on, lad. I'm enjoying this."
     "Wait a sec, Wayne. That's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying I'm learning this new role, playing a bit deeper, and you gotta admit that it's working at some level, innit? I mean, three wins from three matches, there's something in it. I may not be Gerrard at his best, but there's time enough. Right?"
     At the mention of Gerrard and time, Rooney grew pensive, melancholic. What had the Three Lions accomplished of late? Nothing. Gerrard and Lampard were gone. So too were Cole and Terry. In their stead stood youngsters like Walcott, Wilshere, and Gibbs, Chambers and Welbeck and Ox. For all of his own industries, Rooney realized that he represented a waning star, one that had never shone as brightly as it should. Why hadn't he finished the chances that Wilshere had created? Why hadn't he risen to the heights others had expected?
     "Wayne?"
     "Eh? Oh, um, sorry, kid. Lost in me own thoughts there. You played well, no doubt. Maybe there's something in it for us here, if you can master this deep-lying playmaker role. It's worked well enough for us so far, right? Eight goals in three matches. Not bad. Not bad at all. Still, you've got some learnin' to do." At that, Rooney turned to his locker, signaling that the tête-à-tête was over as far as he was concerned.
     Wilshere contemplated his captain's back for a moment, weighing whether to feel brushed off or chuffed. At one end, he'd received a rare compliment. At another, he'd been offered food for thought. Could he learn to play a deeper-lying role? Could he shield the defense while also launching attacks? It's one thing, after all, to play at the base of a midfield against the likes of San Marino and Estonia, quite another to do it against the likes of Chelsea or Man City. All the same, the idea of supplying the likes of Welbeck and Ox, Ramsey and Alexis, was enough to induce salivation. Wilshere managed to wipe it away with his sleeve before offering a dilatory "thanks, Roo."