Roy Hodgson is delighted with both Wayne Rooney’s midfield displays and how the England captain is confounding the doubters at Euro 2016.
No longer the exciting, unfettered striker that burst onto the international scene, much of the focus ahead of the tournament was how best to utilise the 30-year-old’s talents.
Rooney ended the season in Manchester United’s midfield and was unsuccessfully trialled as a deep-lying forward with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane splitting either side in the final warm-up friendly against Portugal
That ineffectiveness saw questions over his place grow, but Hodgson’s decision this week to deploy the country’s all-time top scorer in midfield for the first time on the international scene has paid dividends.
Rooney’s game intelligence, vision and passing range saw him impress in the 1-1 draw against Russia and Thursday’s Group B clash with Wales, when the captain’s experience helped England secure a dramatic 2-1 comeback win.
“The importance of Wayne Rooney (against Wales) is not only in his offensive qualities and it’s nice to have a player like him in your team in midfield because he’s still a goalscorer,” Hodgson said.
“When chances come his way, he was a bit unlucky to get a shot blocked in the second half after some good footwork.
“But we’re happy with the composure he brings to the team, we’re happy with the calmness at times when it gets a bit frantic when you’re chasing equalisers and a winner.
“His long cross-field passes have always been a feature of his game, even when he played at centre forward. He dropped deep and had the ability to play those passes.
“And I think, in particular, having survived some doubts about him in the build-up to this tournament and the build-up to my selection of the 23, I’m so pleased for him that he’s shown everyone he’s still a very, very good player and still capable of having a big influence on the team, even if it wasn’t him (against Wales) scoring goals.
“We quite like the idea of having someone like him and Dele Alli in the team in midfield who can score goals, as well as the ones that play a bit further forwards.”
While Rooney is in his thirties and perhaps more effective in midfield, the catalyst to Hodgson’s decision was arguably the new-found attacking strength in depth at his disposal.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana started as the front three in Lens and were replaced by Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford as England pushed for the win they edged in extra-time.
Sturridge’s close-range finish sent those in white into raptures at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, coming on the back of Vardy’s instinctive finish shortly after his half-time introduction.
“He obviously has a lot of confidence,” Hodgson said of Premier League winner Vardy. “I had no hesitation in putting him on the field of play at half-time.
“Harry was looking a bit tired, I thought, in the course of the first half. He’d worked very, very hard against Russia and had a long season, so it was great to have someone like Jamie Vardy to step into his shoes.
“And also good, in my opinion, that we had players like Marcus Rashford and, in particular, Daniel Sturridge to come onto the field and also give us something different when we need a goal or need to ask questions of a packed defence.
“I am not a great statistic person, and I don’t even trust them, but it seemed to me throughout the 90 minutes we were on the ball so much and had to make so many decisions with the ball.
“It’s good when you’ve got a few players who can do something different in and around the penalty area because it asks further questions of their defenders.”
Thursday’s enthralling win means England only need to draw against Slovakia on Monday to be sure of qualification from Group B.
Their four-point haul could even see them through in third-placed if it came to that, so Hodgson has some decisions on whether to rest some key players in St Etienne.
“It’s going to be something we’ll have to give thought to,” he said.
“But it would be very foolish of me in the warm glow of having won a game so late on and feeling so happy that we now have the four points we think is the minimum that our two performances deserve.
“It would be very foolish of me to start trying to make too many statements about what my plans are for Slovakia.
“What I am prepared to say is that we want to win that game and we’ll be working as hard to win that game as we have done the last two games.
“You’ll have to wait and see which 11 we think is the right 11 to do that.”