Wayne Rooney has dismissed the importance of England learning to be “streetwise”, insisting potential success at Euro 2016 would only be inspired by other qualities.
Thursday’s 1-0 friendly defeat of Portugal demonstrated both that Roy Hodgson’s young team need to further improve and also the innocence some fear may undermine them.
When Bruno Alves’ reckless high kick struck Harry Kane in the head, the forward attempted to play on instead of go to ground as many other experienced professionals may have done.
Eric Dier has already already spoken of the need for England to learn from other teams’ “intelligent edge”, but Rooney believes that while such a mentality may prove a bonus, he and his team-mates have greater priorities.
“If you’re looking at that, then I think we’d be struggling if we’re relying on that to win and go far in the tournament,” said the 30-year-old captain. Did he read Friday’s Mediawatch, which was very amused by one journalist claiming that ‘n a tournament, you would have hoped Kane might have rolled around on the turf and ensured his opponent was sent off’?
“It can be a small margin which can benefit you, but the other things we’re doing and planning completely out-weigh that. That’s a tiny thing you can do better.
“(We need to) more understand the game and manage the game better. It’s normal: that comes with experience.
“Whether it’s stopping a quick free-kick, or – I’m not saying anything bad about foreign players – but they do it naturally better in terms of staying on the ground a bit longer, and almost making a decision for the referee which we haven’t been brought up to do. It’s a big difference for us to do that.
“Harry had seen his opportunity, I think if the referee had played on, we might have went on and scored. In the past we’ve always been an honest team, an honest country.
“We can play better (than we did against Portugal), we can move the ball quicker. (We’ve had) three wins coming into the tournament but I still feel we have to (do) better.”
Rooney was 10 when England, as the hosts of Euro ’96, reached the tournament’s semi-finals before their defeat on penalties by eventual winners Germany.
The 20th anniversary of them doing so has been celebrated over the past week and revisited in a BBC documentary, and it has struck the forward how big victory this summer would therefore be.
“I was speaking about the programme and I actually said ‘It’s as if they won the tournament, the way they’re remembered for it’,” said Rooney, the senior figure in this summer’s youngest squad where the average age is 25.8 years.
“So imagine how we’d be remembered if we could go one better and win it. It’s a challenge for us, and hopefully we can do it.
“I was out at a stadium (during Euro ’96) a couple of times, Anfield, and obviously I remember the atmosphere, but I was still a bit young to really understand what was going on.
“(Paul Gascoigne’s goal) was an iconic moment, especially for Gazza and English football.”
England begin their campaign against Russia on Saturday and Rooney is keen for them to make a strong start.
“The first game massive,” he added. “It’s important we get off to a winning start.
“Everyone says you don’t want to lose the first game, but the difference it can make if you win the first game is huge. It’s a big game for us now, and we need to go in there and prepare well for it. The lads are buzzing and can’t wait.”