Roy Hodgson says that it would take “an awful lot” to leave Wayne Rooney out of his England team.
The 30-year-old’s place is being debated like never before, thanks to the forward’s knee injury towards the end of a tough campaign in which other attackers are impressing.
The fact Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane’s fine form continued in last month’s friendlies against Germany and Holland means the pressure on Rooney has only increased as Euro 2016 edges closer.
The pair are seen to represent positivity and adventure at a time when England’s record goalscorer perhaps represents caution – the kind of prudence Hodgson has often been saddled with, not that he cares one iota.
The Three Lions boss emphasised there are no thoughts “at the moment of jettisoning Wayne Rooney” – and certainly not because some may see him as cautious.
“I think I’ve said now on several occasions that this is a 23-man squad: three goalkeepers and 20 outfield players,” Hodgson said.
“It would take a lot before I say to Wayne Rooney after his captaincy over two years, after 19 games and two defeats, that because I am being pushed to make a brave, bold decision and show what a fantastic, forward-thinking and adventurous coach I am, ‘I am leaving you out the team’. It would take an awful lot.
“But, of course, Wayne Rooney has got to get fit, got to get playing and when Wayne Rooney gets in the squad he has got to get in front of other players again because he would not expect me to just give him a position in the team on sentiment or on his past record or the fact that he’s the captain of the team.
“He will expect me to give him a position in the team because he shows he is better than the others.
“With Jamie Vardy scoring goals and doing well, with Harry Kane scoring goals and doing well, with (Daniel) Sturridge and (Danny) Welbeck now fit again, with (Raheem) Sterling to come back into the team, the competition is a lot fiercer than it was even two years ago.”
Hodgson has repeatedly insisted Rooney is not assured of a starting berth, although looking beyond his most experienced player, top scorer and captain has always looked unlikely.
The England boss has been impressed by the way he has grown into his role as national team skipper – a position he was unable to fulfil over the international break due to injury.
Rooney is set to return to the Manchester United line-up over the coming weeks and Hodgson, who has been in regular contact with his captain, has little concern over his fitness or form.
“What he is he is the captain of our team and has been for the last two years and has done extremely well,” he said.
“Most teams, if they are any good as teams, they don’t throw their captain out the first time a young player comes on the team and scores a goal, unless the captain for some reason is playing so badly or doing so badly there is a clear reason for doing so.
“Rooney has never given us any reasons to do that and I expect him to get back to fitness.
“I expect him to start playing well again and I expect him to be on the plane to France, and then I expect him to accept like all the other players in the squad that he will have to play well enough to get into the team.”