Wayne Rooney is determined to enjoy his final performance for England on Thursday after admitting it was not always fun to play for his country.
The former Manchester United and Three Lions captain is due to come on as a second-half substitute when Gareth Southgate’s side play the United States at Wembley.
Rooney scored a record 53 goals in his first 119 international appearances as the spearhead of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, which included the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham and was criticised for failing to challenge at World Cups and European Championships.
Now 33, Rooney concedes that the pressure to succeed for England meant playing for his country was not always enjoyable – something he does not expect to be the case this week.
“There were maybe times when I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should,” he said on Tuesday. “That was down to the pressure I put on myself which, obviously when you’re in that mode, you don’t want to admit is there.
“I’ve stepped back from that now and can analyse it, and see it was there. It makes you try too hard, makes you anxious, so you don’t enjoy it as much as you should. It affects your performance, because you play your best football and put in your best performances when you’re enjoying playing. And I’m going to enjoy Thursday.”
The decision to grant Rooney a farewell match has prompted criticism from some quarters, amid suggestions it is unfair on younger talent looking to establish their place in the side.
It was also suggested to Rooney that his decision to return was motivated partly by the furore following his last outing, in a 3-0 win over Scotland in November 2016, after which it was claimed he gatecrashed a wedding while drinking. He insisted on Tuesday he “never entered the wedding” and bristled at the suggestion it ended his England career.
However, he insists he would never have agreed to come back for the USA match if it meant he would break the all-time appearance record held by Peter Shilton, who won 125 caps.
“I haven’t been in the squad since the Scotland game, partly through not playing for Manchester United and the second part through making the decision to retire from international football,” Rooney said.
“Speaking to the FA, we felt it was right, this was the way the FA wanted to move forward. If this was the game where I was going to take the record off Peter Shilton, for instance, I would never have done that.”
Rooney is uncertain how emotional the occasion will be, having fought back tears when he broke Bobby Charlton’s scoring record after netting in a 2-0 win over Switzerland in September 2015.
“I’m not normally one who shows my emotions that way but when I scored the penalty against Switzerland it was hard to hold my emotions back,” he said. “There will be emotions on the inside.”
However, he says he remembers only too well the last time he cried: “It was on the plane, trying to get my four kids to go to sleep!”