Rooney retired from internationals in August after scoring a record 53 goals in 119 appearances – the most by an outfield player – for England.
But the Everton forward was still often and widely criticised despite his performances for the national team throughout his career.
Eriksson, in charge of England from 2001-06, believes Rooney deserved better – comparing the 31-year-old to retired Italy and Roma great Totti.
"The treatment of Wayne Rooney told me something about the way England fans view the national team," the Swede wrote in the Daily Mail.
"He's the record goalscorer for both Manchester United and England: you can't argue with that.
"If Rooney had been Italian, he would have been loved like Francesco Totti was at Roma. You don't criticise Totti in Italy. There might have been reasons to, sometimes, but you don't touch him.
"It isn't like that with Wayne and England but I can tell you that he had to be dragged away from training because he loved to play and practice so much."
England have qualified for Russia 2018 as they set their sights on winning the World Cup for a second time and first since 1966.
Eriksson believes a generation of England players, Rooney among them, were perhaps under-appreciated.
"Was he [Rooney] appreciated as he might have been as an England player? Maybe not," he said.
"You look at the way some of the big English players in the past, like Rooney and David Beckham, have been criticised and you have to ask: 'What do you want these players to be?'"