Wayne Rooney remains an enigma for England in major tournaments. The promise that has failed to deliver on the biggest stage over recent years has another chance to prove his world class in Brazil. If England get the player who seems to don England’s shirt like a cement-overcoat rather than the bustling force-of-nature in the red of Manchester United however, would, or even should, Roy Hodgson drop him?
It’s the sort of negativity that the manager will want to dispel quickly ahead of the tournament’s start, but the previously recalcitrant, now increasingly vocal Paul Scholes has played that particular ‘hospital pass’ to the England manager. With all the bite of one of his famed ‘mistimed’ tackles, Scholes questioned whether Hodgson would have the “balls” to make such a decision should Rooney not be “up to scratch in the warm-ups or in the first game of the World Cup.”
Faced by the press at St George’s as England prepare for tonight’s encounter with Peru at Wembley, Hodsgon played down the issue with experienced calm. “I’d like to think that, as someone who has been a manager for a long time, I have the capacity to make the decisions that are necessary,” he said. Then, turning his attention to nullifying the assertion anyway, he added “And secondly, of course I don’t think Wayne Rooney’s past his best. I’ve selected him in a 23-man squad that I’m very proud of. I believe in Wayne Rooney. He’s still a young man. The real opinions that are going to count are from the staff and the players. Hopefully we will get our decisions right and have a good tournament.”
It was of course the expected riposte, and one that was backed up by skipper, and fellow Scouser, Steve Gerrard. “I do have an opinion and, for me, I think Paul Scholes is wrong,” he declared with assurance. It was hardly the first time he had found himself in direct conflict with Scholes. “I think Wayne’s been Manchester United’s best player at home and in Europe,“ at which point he actually invited the floor to disagree. Someone posited that the form of David de Gea may have been better. Gerrard however brushed aside the comment. “de Gea’s a keeper, they don’t count. I think [Rooney] has been in terrific form. From what I’ve seen from his performances in the United team, his form has been really positive.”
It was a sound display by manager and captain to defend one of their number against outsiders. It is of course true that Rooney owes the country a performance on the biggest stage that justifies his oft-quoted status of one of the world’s best players. The robust support offered by Hodgson and Gerrard may just be the catalyst to bring out the best of Rooney, a player who always seems to need to feel loved. Gerrard certainly seems to think so. He said “He’s worked hard this week. He decided to do his own week of extra training and he seems in a better frame of mind going into this tournament than he’s had going into previous tournaments, when he’s had injuries on his mind in the past. I’m excited about where Wayne Rooney is at.” All England hopes that he is right.
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