Rooney: 10 years with England but still unfulfilled
Wayne Rooney moves towards his 10th England anniversary still searching for total fulfilment as an international away from his successes at Old Trafford with Manchester United.
If elite players are defined by their contributions to major tournaments, then England's most naturally gifted footballer has yet to fully secure his place in his country's gallery of greats.
Rooney is not alone in his frustration as England's success remains limited to the sunlit afternoon in July 1966 when the late Bobby Moore was carried shoulder-high holding the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley after the World Cup final win against West Germany.
And yet for a stellar talent, who was given his first cap by Sven-Goran Eriksson at 17 years 111 days on 12 February 2003 in a 3-1 defeat by Australia at Upton Park, Rooney will know the next World Cup may be his last chance to make that indelible mark.
Rooney's 10 years in an England shirt have too often been marked by frustration. Photo: Getty
Rooney's England record is perfectly respectable, with 29 goals from 76 games, but he knows there are spaces left to fill. No-one is more determined to make that leap than the 26-year-old, with a drive that has occasionally carried his game and character to the edge when representing England.
The teenage Rooney illuminated Euro 2004 in Portugal as an Everton player, then fell short and ended his World Cup two years later with a quarter-final red card against the Portuguese in Gelsenkirchen. He only captured the headlines in South Africa in 2010 with some ill-judged abuse of England fans fired into a television camera after a goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
Euro 2012 was another disappointment. Rooney missed the first two games against France and Sweden through suspension and even though he scored the winner against co-hosts Ukraine, still returned home accompanied by a sense of falling short.
The World Cup in Brazil is the next stop and England's qualifying campaign, made more complicated after being held to a draw by Ukraine at Wembley, continues against San Marino at Wembley on Friday.
It is a sign of Rooney's senior status in England's squad that he was able to reflect with pride on the honour of being given the captain's armband in the absence of suspended Steven Gerrard and injured Frank Lampard.
There may be some who believe the combination of the heavy weight of expectation that accompanies Rooney's every England move, alongside a temperament that has improved drastically but can still be combustible, makes him a surprise candidate as captain.
In reality, he is the logical choice within the framework of what will be required against San Marino.
England manager Roy Hodgson has no such doubts and - Montenegro aside - Rooney's on-field discipline has undergone something of a transformation in recent times.
Hodgson said: "The expectations for the likes of Wayne, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are a bit higher than those playing their third, fourth or fifth game but I had no hesitation in thinking Steven could handle it and it is the same with Wayne.
"It is something they have to live with as a top player, a cross they have to bear. But it didn't occur to me to give the captaincy to anyone else. Wayne deserves it."
This is a game that gives the lie to the old adage of "no easy games" in football. San Marino lie joint 207th in Fifa's rankings alongside Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It should be an exercise in improving goal difference, something that may yet prove decisive in this close World Cup group.
Celebrating the news that wife Coleen is expecting their second child, Rooney presented a mature figure at England's Hertfordshire HQ - determined to prove the red mist had evaporated forever and now was the time to show his full bloom for England.
Of course this could also be construed as a striker with a chequered disciplinary record tempting fate, but Rooney possesses gifts on such a scale that it would be a source of sadness to his many admirers if he failed to replicate the impact he had as a tyro in the heat of Lisbon in 2004.
And for all San Marino's lowly standing, Rooney's game face was on. He may also be motivated by a growing realisation that he needs to make up for lost time with England, especially after missing the opening two qualifiers through injury.
It will be a temporary appointment, with Gerrard scheduled to return against Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday, but Rooney will call on the spirit of England's current captain and a warrior who fought many battles alongside him at Old Trafford to ensure there are no mis-steps in front of a sell-out Wembley crowd.
Rooney said: "I've learned from captains like Roy Keane having played with him for a couple of years at Manchester United and seen how he played on the pitch and dealt with things off it. He was vocal on the pitch and helped me off it. He was a great captain. Hopefully I can gain some of his qualities in my own game.
"With England it has been Steven Gerrard and his determination. Growing up I saw his passion and desire to play for Liverpool and England and that's fantastic. He's certainly been an inspiration."
Rooney added: "I've had a few rollockings off Roy [Keane]. We've had a few debates but we want to win. Sometimes when you want to win it is not all about sitting down and talking quietly - you have a go at each other to try and get the best out of each other.
"If you saw the way Roy [Keane] was with senior players, he was the same with the younger players. He treated everybody the same and he wasn't afraid to tell everybody how he wanted them to play.
"He didn't scare me at all. No - I respected him. He was one of the best players in the Premier League and Manchester United's history. He is the type of player I like when he has a go at you. I want to show them what I can do. It was desire and passion."
So it will not be a mellow Rooney at Wembley as he says: "It's a great honour and hopefully it will be a successful night. I don't think I'm going to change my attitude because I'm wearing the armband. I'm quite vocal on the pitch and hopefully my determination can help the team.
"I think it's a great responsibility for me to take. I feel I've matured as a player, learned the game better and have a different style. Whatever the manager asks me to do I can do it."