The 'Obsession' Over Rooney Is Justified

Roy Hodgson is saddened by England's obsession with Wayne Rooney, but what does he expect? The debate over the striker's inclusion is now more relevant than ever...

Last Updated: 02/06/14 at 12:46 Post Comment

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Despite what Roy Hodgson might think about the country's 'obsession' with Wayne Rooney, the debate over the striker's role at the World Cup is not without reason. England is no more obsessed with Rooney than Brazil is with Neymar, Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo or Belgium with Eden Hazard - three players who also appear in Nike's 'Risk Everything' advert.

There was a time, ten years ago, when Nike's slogan epitomised the very essence of Rooney on a football pitch. He took Euro 2004 by storm, scoring four goals in the group stage before limping off with a foot injury against Portugal as England lost the quarter-final on penalties. The 18-year-old was heralded as the nation's saviour - the missing piece of the golden generation. But little did we know that the next decade would bring only one more goal at international tournaments.

Rooney's record in qualifying has been impressive, but on the biggest stage his contribution has too often been lacking. Eight matches at World Cup finals have yielded zero goals - and one angry rant at supporters in Cape Town - and, by his own admission, Brazil is now a make-or-break tournament. "I've been here before and said what I feel I can deliver and then it hasn't happened," he said. "So I think this is the one where I have to show what I can do. I believe I am in the best possible shape and the best condition I can be in. I am ready for it. I am excited for it. So no excuses."

It is perfectly understandable that Hodgson has sought to ease the pressure on one of his star players, but molly-coddling Rooney was of little benefit to David Moyes at Manchester United. If we are obsessed with Wayne Rooney, it is because £300,000 a week over five years merits that obsession. In terms of reward and recognition, England have one of the most appreciated players on the planet in their ranks, and it should be expected that his performances will be in keeping with his remuneration.

But history tells us that is too much to hope for, rendering the debate over Rooney's inclusion in the first XI as 'relevant' rather than obsessive. He may have been United's best player under Moyes, but there is an argument that the best player in an underperforming team could in fact be one of the root causes of its limitations. There are other factors involved, clearly, but United were much more successful when they won the title in 2012/13 without Rooney as the leading figure.

This idea of building the perfect team has been essential to England's preparations. Not only has Paul Scholes questioned whether Rooney has already peaked - to which the answer seems obvious - but the striker's former teammate has also joined the clamour for Hodgson to adopt a style as close as possible to Liverpool's. "The thing I admired most was the swagger of their play and how they terrorised opponents, which reminded me of United at their best," said Scholes. "I'd definitely start with Gerrard, Sturridge, Henderson and Sterling."

The problem with this approach is that Liverpool's most talented player will line up against England in Sao Paulo on June 19. In Luis Suarez's place we have Rooney - speed replaced by stagnation, gut over guile, the element of surprise erased by increasing predictability. Liverpool's style is founded in breath-taking counter-attacking and rapid transitions from defence to attack, but such a system would surely bypass a player who is yet again struggling for peak fitness before an international tournament, evidenced by a sluggish 66 minutes against Peru.

Despite dismissing Scholes' perceived criticism of Rooney, Hodgson has acknowledged the need to make important decisions. "I'd like to think that, as someone who has been a manager for a long time, I have the capacity to make the decisions that are necessary," he said when asked about Rooney's role. And yet his subsequent comments about obsession suggest any necessary decision has already been made: "The real opinions that are going to count are from the staff and the players. Hopefully we will get our decisions right and have a good tournament."

But Hodgson should remember that Rooney is not indispensable - an opinion that has been further encouraged by Daniel Sturridge's superb performances this season and stunning goal against Peru. The very nature of obsession makes it almost impossible to ignore, but overlooking Rooney is something England may have to consider if they are to produce their best football at the World Cup. Rooney might be one of the best players available to Hodgson, but it is right to question whether he still commands a place in the best team.

Matt Stanger - follow him on Twitter.

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