England legend Alan Shearer is convinced Wayne Rooney will carry the burden of FIFA World Cup™ expectancy being heaped on his shoulders.
As a former Three Lions sharp-shooter himself, Shearer knows exactly what pressures Rooney is likely to be under in South Africa this summer as England try to lift the greatest prize in the game for the first time since 1966. Shearer never seemed to have a problem and, having spoken to the prolific Manchester United man, he has no doubt Rooney will cope with ease.
"A hell of a lot is on his shoulders but he can carry the burden. When you have done it for the biggest club in the world for the past 12 months, England will not be a problem," said Shearer. "In fact he is relishing it. The more pressure that is heaped on him, the more he enjoys his football."
Any team that wins a major tournament needs luck, but if all our players are fit and playing well, England have a very good chance.
Once the England captain, Shearer only got one shot at the tournament himself, at France 98, although he was part of the England side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 96. And having gone through that agony, he feels with Rooney to lean on, Fabio Capello's men can do even better.
"Rooney has been awesome. He has had a magnificent season," he said. "He is in the top three in the world without a doubt. After [Cristiano] Ronaldo left, Sir Alex Ferguson asked him to score more goals. He has come up with that. At times he has carried Manchester United but his performances have not dipped. Sometimes as a forward, goals can hide a poor performance. He has scored and played very well."
In his prime, Shearer was regarded as the complete striker - a status Rooney is approaching now. Even the so-called weak link of his game, heading, has improved beyond all recognition - something for which Shearer has particular admiration.
Rooney is only improving
"He has developed his game this season," he said. "In previous years the accusation has been that Wayne is a magnificent team player but has done too much work. Now he is spending more time in the right areas, which is why his goals tally has gone up. And he will improve even more, which is a scary thought for defenders.
"He has played on the biggest stage for Manchester United and is now delivering on a regular basis with England. He is up there with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka without a shadow of a doubt," he continued.
Shearer will never be a World Cup winner, but the next best thing would be watching Rio Ferdinand emulate another former West Ham man by lifting the most prized trophy at Soccer City on July 11. Although Brazil and Spain are the favourites, he does not discount England's chances - even if a few things will have to go their way before they can be crowned kings of the world.
"At this moment there are a lot of questions to be answered," he said. "I worry about the goalkeeping situation because we have three capable ones but I am not sure we have a great one and we don't have many options on the left or the right. But if these doubts are going to be raised, it is better to be doing it in the middle of May rather than the middle of June. Any team that wins a major tournament needs luck, but if all our players are fit and playing well, England have a very good chance."