The Derby County forward has opened up about the responsibilities and pressures of wearing the armband.
Former Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney has revealed he once confronted one of his former managers on behalf of his team-mates to tell him his training sessions were “sh*t” .
Rooney has worn the captain’s armband at every club he has played for in his career so far, during spells at Everton, Manchester United, DC United and now Derby.
The Liverpool-born forward says he is aware of the responsibility that comes with the role, both on and off the pitch. That includes representing the players and speaking up on their behalf, which one on occasion led to an awkward conversation with his manager.
“When players aren’t happy, they often go to the captain and you end up being the one to present complaints. That can lead to difficult conversations,” Rooney told The Times. “At one club I was asked to go and tell the manager his training sessions were not good enough. That’s not an easy one. ‘Excuse me, gaffer. The lads think your training’s shit.’
“It can be a lot to take on. You represent the players in meetings over the squad’s charity work and commercial activities. You talk to the PFA. During Covid, what captains have needed more than anything is to be there for their players.”
Rooney succeeded Steven Gerrard as England captain after the 2014 World Cup, leading the team on 23 occasions between 2014 and 2017. He says there are added layers of pressure and scrutiny that come with the role, particularly when dealing with the media.
“Captaining your country is a privilege but a challenge on a different scale to captaining a club,” said Rooney. “ You’re not with your players every day, the off-field commitments are huge — and with England a significant duty is having to help negotiate the players’ commercial payments.
“It’s your responsibility to welcome new players and settle them into the squad. I always made sure I hung around the games room and coffee area a lot during the day, so I was there for players — especially new ones — to talk to.
“The media duties are more intense. You face the country’s leading journalists — and not all of them think you should be captain.
“Some press conferences are tough. In 2015, when France played at Wembley following the Paris attacks, before the pre-match conference I remember sitting in the office with Roy and (FA chief executive) Martin Glenn and disagreeing with the FA’s briefing.
“We knew, because of the sensitivities, there would be difficult questions that should be answered carefully and clearly but the FA advised we say the events in Paris were tragic but not for us to talk about. I said, ‘No, we’re all adults, we have to say how we feel.’ We had to speak from the heart. People would have seen through rehearsed answers.
“I went into every captain’s press conference wanting to be honest and there are tricks. If you want to give a particular answer, you make sure you get asked the question. At Euro 2016, Raheem Sterling was going through a tough time, facing unfair criticism, so via the FA’s press officers I made sure a journalist asked me a question that allowed me to defend him.”
Rooney has grown used to dealing with the media spotlight ever since he burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old at Everton in 2002. Though he is widely praised for being one of the best players of his generation, his high profile has often led to less savoury headlines.
On one such occasion in November 2016, Rooney was criticised in the press for allegedly being drunk and gatecrashing a wedding at a hotel the day after an England game.
Rooney insists the headlines were not a true reflection of what really happened, but accepts that as England captain he needed to avoid putting himself in such a situation.
“I’ve had a lot of stuff in the press since I was 16, a lot of it crap,” he said. “But half of it is my own fault and that’s where you need to grow up as a person. I’d been through that so when I became England captain the level of attention was no big change for me, but it might have been a bigger change for someone like Harry Kane.
“You need to be a strong character. The England armband means your behaviour is judged differently.
“After my last competitive international, v Scotland in 2016, there were headlines about me having a drink in The Grove Hotel yet the truth was it was a Saturday, we’d played on Friday and it was already decided I wouldn’t be involved — not even on the bench — in a match on Tuesday versus Spain.
“I could have gone home. Gareth and I agreed, though, that as captain it would be good if I stayed around the camp and attended the game.
“As happened during my whole England career when there was a break, players were given the evening off and permission to let their hair down, even have a drink. Some players headed into London but I knew it would get more attention if I accompanied them, so I stayed in the hotel along with a few others, including staff, and had a drink.
“On reflection I could have made a different decision but what followed was way over the top. In the aftermath, the FA was too scared of the reaction to defend me and so the coverage went overboard. I had to be strong and deal with the situation. I’ve dealt with it my whole career.”