Minutes after Wayne Rooney came on for Dele Alli in the 73rd minute of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Slovenia, the Manchester United forward side-footed a shot narrowly wide of goal.

Save for the final product, it was vintage Rooney.

He immediately assumed the No. 10 role that Alli manned during the stodgy goalless stalemate, firing a shot on his right from the edge of the area that may have bested Jan Oblak had it been on target.

Sporting the No. 18 kit typically reserved for substitute players, Rooney came off the bench at the Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana a day after caretaker gaffer Gareth Southgate announced that the Three Lions’ all-time goal-scorer would not be in the starting XI.

A fall from grace for all to see, pundits and supporters alike have gravitated to Rooney’s decline like flies to pies. Discussions about his best position are paired with ones lambasting the 30-year-old’s current standing with both club and country.

The “what have you done for me lately” crowd, with pitchforks and burning effigies of the Scouse-born veteran in tow, have singled out a player once revered among an England squad littered with underperforming stars.

Rooney was replaced in the squad by Eric Dier, who didn’t exactly make a good account of himself, with a poorly weighted back pass aimed at Joe Hart nearly converted by the hosts. Still, the criticism focuses on Rooney, who has fallen out of favour with England and United supporters during his career’s most trying campaign.

Related: Southgate confirms Rooney dropped from starting XI vs. Slovenia

His five Premier League titles, three domestic cups, and 2008 Champions League trophy have become relics of lore, as Rooney struggles to acclimate to diminishing pace and an increasingly heavy touch that have seen him dropped by Southgate and Jose Mourinho alike.

“My game now? Of course, I’m not denying it is in a difficult period. I’ve been on the bench the last few games for Manchester United but that’s part of football,” Rooney said Tuesday ahead of the Group A qualifier.

“I have to work hard and, when I’m needed for both club and country, I’ll make sure I’m ready.”

No stranger to hard work, Rooney is coming to terms with his place in football, and while others revel in counting the Everton product out, he appears happy to cede the honours to the next generation of England footballers.

“I’ve played 13 years non-stop for England and given everything. A time comes when you’re not the first name on the team sheet, which I have been in the past.

“I think Jordan (Henderson) is a fantastic leader,” added Rooney. “He has taken a difficult job from Steven Gerrard and grown into the position.”

Like Gerrard, Rooney’s decline has become front-page fodder, and like his former Three Lions teammate, is accepting a career’s later stages with class.

When Wayne Rooney burst onto the international scene as a teenager rife with talents, he became England’s then-youngest ever debutant in a Feb. 2003 friendly with Australia at Boleyn Ground. A little more than six months later, the 17-year-old became the nation’s youngest-ever goal-scorer.

His first major tournament showing, Euro 2004, witnessed Rooney become the tournament’s youngest-ever goal-scorer, and with four goals in four matches, the ginger-topped forward earned a spot on UEFA’s Team of the Tournament alongside mythical legends such as Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Luis Figo.

Related: Examining the world the last time Rooney didn’t start an England match

Rooney is England’s all-time leading scorer (53), leader in appearances for an outfield player (119), the youngest to play in a World Cup qualifier, and one of 14 players to appear in three World Cups in a Three Lions strip. He is one of two players (Sol Campbell) to play in six consecutive major tournaments and the holder of several other records. His place among the pantheon of England’s greatest-ever players should not be in question.

Far from his peak, while Rooney’s talents have depreciated, he’s not exactly rubbish to England’s gold, and the numbers back it up.

Heading into Tuesday’s tilt, in the last 10 England matches – four of which he played as a forward and six as a midfielder – Rooney had more shots on target (11) than any player in the squad. Daniel Sturridge (10) and Harry Kane (9) are next closest.

During that spell, Rooney has made the second-most passes (550), bested only by the man who sported the captain’s armband against Slovenia, Jordan Henderson (628). Some of those passes have missed their mark, like one particular interval during the latter stages of Tuesday’s match, though many have also found their target.

His passing accuracy of 85.09 percent over that period is fifth best among England players, with only Dier (90.09), Ross Barkley (88.92), Henderson (88.22), and Theo Walcott (87.02) boasting better numbers than the out-of-favour Rooney.

While Rooney may deservedly no longer be the first name on the England team sheet, to say that he is no longer the caliber of player to belong in an underwhelming squad like Southgate’s current lot is unfair. It’s not just Rooney who’s been a step off the pace, and it’s not only Rooney who appeared limp in competition against a squad they should have dismissed by the interval.

“There is a thing of respect and unfortunately very often we don’t see it fully until players retire and they are finished. I know that is the case,” Southgate said about Rooney.

Wayne Rooney is no longer the player whose scissor kick flipped the Manchester derby on its head, nor is he the prodigious talent who announced his arrival with an individual moment of brilliance against Arsenal whilst with the Toffees.

That’s not to say that he merits the criticism that is currently directed his way, and his current England boss agrees.

In conversation with reporters, Southgate shares an anecdote from former national team boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose advice concerning a young Rooney was brief but poignant: “Look after him, he’s your future.”

Southgate adds, “I’m not sure we’ve always done that.”

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