‘He bloody well should not start’ – Ian Watson
Rooney has been a fixture in the England team for 13 years now but the captain is clearly struggling when that simple fact forms the basis of the argument for keeping him in that England team.
Put simply, there are better players to occupy the positions Rooney would hope to fill. Harry Kane is England’s best centre-forward; Dele Alli has been the country’s most-impressive No.10. Rooney’s experience cannot trump the form either Spurs youngster has shown over the last season – or, in Kane’s case, two years.
This is a huge problem for Roy Hodgson. The prospect of dropping his captain may be unpalatable for the England boss, but crowbarring Rooney into the XI at the expense of more in-form players would stick in the throat of much of the nation. Harry Redknapp suggested Hodgson would take the easy decision and pick Rooney to avoid controversy. At this stage, including the captain would be the most controversial option of the two.
Throughout the last 13 years, Rooney’s name has been the first on the team-sheet due to the striker’s form and the lack of credible alternatives. No longer does either apply.
Rooney is the joint-19th highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season with seven goals. Kane has three times that number, having already matched his tally from last term, when he outscored Rooney by nine goals.
Admittedly, Kane has had the benefit of playing through the middle as a central striker for the vast majority of that time, while Rooney has been shifted around rather more by his club manager. But that should be another reason to opt for Kane, rather than excuse Rooney.
Had Rooney really impressed in any of his roles for United, then Louis van Gaal would surely have stuck with him. But while his “captain’s privileges” have seen him keep his place at club level, the same should not apply on the international scene.
The veteran has certainly lost some of the physical prowess that made him a force at such a young age. Rooney no longer possesses the pace to lose defenders nor the fitness to harass them into mistakes, especially when he is fewer than six to 10 games back from injury. Kane, 22, can do both, as he displayed on Saturday in Berlin, where Hodgson said:
“We were very close to their bench and their players and they found it difficult to deal with our pressing in the first half.”
The only quality Rooney possesses more than any other striker is his experience. He has featured in three World Cups and two European Championships, but the experience seems to have drained him as he’s got older. Only in his first tournament, Euro 2004, did he live up to or exceed the standards expected of him. Since then, it seems like the weight of expectation has worn him down. Is that type of experience really an asset in comparison to the energy and enthusiasm of youth?
Of course, Rooney is not finished as an England international. But the days of him being guaranteed a start are gone, especially when others are currently showing themselves more worthy of the striker’s role.
‘Actually, pal, he should start’ – Matt Stead
Well, that was weird, wasn’t it? An exciting English side with a young, promising core, fighting back from two goals down away at the world champions to win 3-2. Gary Cahill was the oldest of the Three Lions, and he only turned 30 in December. In Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier, England have not only an overwhelming flavour of Tottenham, but an unfamiliar sense of potential.
Hold on, I’m arguing for Wayne Rooney to start? Oh for fu…
Alright, it’s a tough sell. But is it? Is it so outlandish to suggest England’s record goalscorer should start in a major tournament? That the captain of the country should reprise the role he has fulfilled for over a decade?
Even in the midst of one of England’s most impressive performances in recent memory, plenty of headline space and discussion was saved for the absent captain. The clamour to remove Rooney from the starting XI is understandable. The 30-year-old is not the player he once was, be that for England or Manchester United. He slows play down. He drops too deep. He acts as a hindrance to his team-mates. So go the accusations against the forward, but his experience in France will be invaluable.
Only one player who started Roy Hodgson’s first game as England manager featured in the latest 23-man squad. James Milner was one of an underwhelming opening selection, which included Rob Green, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. Much has changed since. And where there are calls for Rooney to be disposed of, the same claims are being made over Milner. As with any strong collection of players, does a balance between youth and experience not need to be struck?
The comeback in Germany, the clear potential some of these England players possess, the unerring hope, is undoubtedly exciting. But Hodgson also needs players he can trust in the summer. Players he knows are capable of carrying out his tactics. As far as lieutenants go, his most loyal is Rooney. The striker has scored 23 goals in 36 games since Hodgson’s appointment. The only other player to reach double figures since 2012 is Danny Welbeck, with 14. The Arsenal striker is followed by Daniel Sturridge, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Frank Lampard. Each have scored five under Hodgson. The latest 23-man squad comprised 42 goals and 381 international caps. Rooney has 51 goals in 109 England games. Such figures are a reminder that he still has a role to play.
Just ask his international team-mates. “Wayne is a fantastic player, our skipper and a great guy,” said Harry Kane last week. Jordan Henderson described the 30-year-old as “encouraging”, “a leader” and “a very good captain” last year. In discussing the captaincy last November, keeper Joe Hart said: “When we’ve got someone like Wayne Rooney it’s not something we have to worry about too much.” The striker is a respected figure in the dressing room, and while experience alone does not command a guaranteed starting place, it adds to the argument.
Rooney’s form at the beginning of this calendar year provided hope that he could relive some of his finest performances in an England shirt this summer. Before injury, the striker scored seven goals and assisted a further three in nine appearances in 2016. With a timely return and sufficient match practice, England’s leader should retain his place in the starting line-up.
Ed – What is your favourite film? Mine is 1997’s Devil’s Advocate, starring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Masterpiece.