World Cup: Wayne Rooney is the LeBron James of British soccer

England has just been ousted from the World Cup after only 6 days and two games. Projected by many to battle for the top spot in Group D, England must now play an almost meaningless third game against the likely group winner in Costa Rica.

To many outside of England, this display by the Three Lions did not come as a shock. Fabio Capello’s resignation following Euro 2012 left England with little time to find aLeBron and Rooney new manager and subsequently Roy Hodgson with even less time. Hodgson picked a respectable team; however, there were always questions as to the team’s experience and leadership.

These questions of experience and leadership were often overshadowed by England’s obsession with Wayne Rooney. This past week I took a step back and realized how similar the careers of Wayne Rooney and LeBron James are.

[World Cup: The England problem]

Professional debut

To start, let’s look at the teams (for sake of comparison I’ll call football clubs “teams”) where these two athletes began their careers.

LeBron James, as seemingly all Americans know, began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a great honor as LeBron was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. Comparatively, Wayne Rooney began his career with Everton FC. This was a great honor for Rooney, having grown up an Everton fan.

 

Second professional team

Both young players, who were teenagers when they made their professional debuts, left their first clubs to chase their dreams of winning a championship. And yes, both did cash in on a hefty pay upgrade in the process. Rooney left Everton for Premier League giant Manchester United, and LeBron left Cleveland to team up with other superstars in the hopes of creating a new dynasty in Miami.

And yes, both Rooney and LeBron succeeded in winning their championships. Rooney won five Premier League titles in his ten years with United and LeBron has two NBA titles in his four years with the Miami Heat. Even more commendable is how Rooney and LeBron are regarded as two of the hardest working players in the sport. There is no doubting the dedication to each player’s team. However, despite, or potentially due to, both players’ great success, they are two of the most polarizing players in their respective sports.

 

Recently coming up short

Within the last two weeks these two players have featured in yet another final. Rooney once again led his England squad into the 2014 World Cup Finals leading the England squad in goals throughout their qualification. LeBron carried his Miami Heat back into the NBA Finals with a season averaging more than 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, according to NBA.com. (Losing out to Kevin Durant in the MVP voting.)

There was clearly much pressure placed on these two critical players to perform when the team needed them most. However, to the chagrin of fans across the world, both Rooney and LeBron performed well on the biggest stage.

In England’s first two games Rooney was the sole bright spot in England’s attack. He provided the inch-perfect final pass on the team’s only goal against Italy and he scored the only goal England could muster against Uruguay. (This goal tied Rooney for 4th all-time England top-scorer list.) After a performance such as this, on the world’s biggest stage, it is difficult for his critics to place any more of the blame for England’s early tournament exit on Rooney.

LeBron had a similar success in his fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. He posted 28.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, and 3.5 assists per game as the Heat fell in five games to the Spurs. Despite the losing effort, LeBron showcased his unbelievable talent. At points in the series he was the only member of his team that seemed to be truly tuned in for the game.

 

After the performances that both players displayed, there was not much for the critics to latch onto. At times it appeared that Rooney and LeBron were single-handedly attempting to will their teams to victory. Despite their losing efforts, both players cemented their place among the greatest currently in the game.

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