Why Southgate’s Slovenia snub doesn’t mean the end for Wayne Rooney
Jamie Clark | 12 October 2016
Wayne Rooney specials after Southgate axe
It’s the question on everyone’s lips after Gareth Southgate decided to drop him. Are Wayne Rooney’s days in an England shirt numbered? Maybe not, actually…
The special prices available with Coral are far from conclusive in this regard. Rooney’s England captain odds to lead his country at the 2018 World Cup see an even-money return on him retaining the armband.
Yet he’s 4/5 to not skipper the Three Lions in Russia. Southgate needs time to find a new leader, with question marks hanging over other candidates.
England goalie Joe Hart is on loan at Torino this term, but what of his long-term first-team prospects and future at club level? Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola doesn’t want him, so a permanent Etihad exit next summer looms large.
Chelsea centre back Gary Cahill is another who has taken the armband in Rooney’s absence before, yet his form this and last season leaves a lot to be desired.
Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson leads his country against Slovenia, meanwhile, leaving Rooney as the only credible leader for now.
Needed to deal with Auld Enemy?
Away from the issue of the Three Lions captaincy, Southgate’s bold selection against Slovenia doesn’t mean Rooney has no international future. The next World Cup qualifying game is an Auld Enemy encounter at Wembley with Scotland.
If there’s one fixture that stirs football passions for England players and fans, then it’s tackling the Tartan Army. Rooney bagged a decisive second-half brace the last time the Three Lions faced Scotland in a “friendly”.
That stat from November 2014, just two years prior to the tartan team travelling to London, shows he can make contributions. Rooney’s own passion is unlikely to have diminished for the latest derby day.
Such previous against Scotland leaves Rooney odds-on at 4/5 to start the Remembrance Day outing, yet evens to miss out. Much depends on the role Southgate envisages him playing in the England team.
Know your role
Rooney has always been one to express himself and go in search of the ball, whatever his nominal position. Soon turning 31, he simply cannot possess the dynamism and explosiveness of younger legs like Dele Alli at number 10 that he used to, but offers other qualities.
What about a deeper-lying role in midfield? Southgate has Eric Dier for that. Liverpool captain Henderson also has more legs than Rooney in the engine room. Industry doesn’t win matches alone, though.
Could Rooney become a playmaker as previous England captain Steven Gerrard did? Jack Wilshere is the great hope for such a role, provided he can prove his fitness and get games under his belt. The jury is out on that.
Up front, Daniel Sturridge, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane are among those staking claims to start. All this debate at what Rooney’s role is doesn’t change a couple of facts; the first of which is his game time at Manchester United is limited.
Many commentators doubted Southgate could be as ruthless as Jose Mourinho. On the other hand, he’s named just two England teams since being named interim national boss. One XI included Rooney, the other lineup did not.
Southgate may recall him, especially if Rooney rescues England from the bench against Slovenia at 19/10 for a goal anytime. He still has a lot to offer mentoring younger players, who look up to this talismanic figure even if media scorn is heaped upon him.
Second, Rooney is Three Lions record goalscorer and only goalkeeping great Peter Shilton has more caps. To write off all that experience rashly would be a mistake.
Nobody else in the England setup can boast going to six international tournaments like Rooney. Age catches up to even the great, and adapting to survive is the golden rule.
Survival of smartest not fittest
Pick any legendary modern footballer; Luis Figo, Paolo Maldini, Lothar Matthaus. Their position like as not changed as they got older.
Typical winger Figo played wide right with distinction for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Portugal; yet ended as a central midfielder with Inter Milan.
Azzurri and AC Milan icon Maldini could still do a job at left back at 40, yet more often than not turned out in the heart of defence during the final decade of his career.
Germany’s most-capped player Matthaus, meanwhile, moved from midfield to a sweeper successfully. Nor is age a barrier to impact; just ask Roma clubman Francesco Totti, who still turns out in the Giallorossi attack at 40.
To take yet another example from Italy, Roberto Baggio spent two years in the international wilderness (1995-97) when his form dipped, but regained his place and scored twice at the 1998 World Cup. Not bad for a man widely panned for missing that decisive penalty in the 1994 final.
If it happens to some fellow greats, then Rooney still needs time to undergo that Paul Scholes transformation – should that be how he envisages his final years in football.
England aren’t yet at that stage where they don’t need Rooney, so Southgate is keeping him sweet with compliments. The Scotland teamsheet may turn out to be more revealing than the Slovenia one regarding his future.
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