Sunday, October 09, 2016

Is Rooney nearing the end with England?

Rooney's worth to England was subjected to another forensic
examination in the build-up to Southgate's first match in
charge - and the 30-year-old was given a strong vote of
confidence by the new manager.

Southgate sympathised with the sole focus on Rooney and
admitted he could not understand the audible frustration of
England's fans when he shot wildly off target near the end.
He said: "It's fascinating to get an insight into his world over
the last 10 days. Every debate seems to focus on him. The
onus on him is enormous, the criticism of him is, at times,
unfair and yet he ploughs on and plays with pride and
represents his country with pride."

Southgate compared Rooney to long-term England servants
such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole as he
added: "They kept turning out and really put themselves on
the line. Some other players have not put themselves forward
at those moments and withdrawn from squads when the going
has got tough.

"Those guys are the people that really desperately wanted to
play for England again and again and again and put their
necks on the block. Wayne falls into that category."

Southgate's faith was clear as Rooney was kept on as captain
and started against Malta, and all the indications are that he
will keep his place in the next qualifier in Slovenia on Tuesday.
The Manchester United man may not be the force he once
was but he is a player and personality who never hides
irrespective of any personal struggles for form and his
determination to always be involved was in evidence once
more at Wembley.

This was, however, another indifferent performance that once
again gave the impression that Rooney is increasingly being
shoe-horned into England's plans rather than acting as a
fulcrum for a manager's policy.

Here Rooney, who is 31 later this month, was operating in a
deep-lying midfield role spraying "Hollywood" passes left and
right to the flanks but not providing any killer creativity, other
than two shots which brought saves from Malta's heroic
keeper Andrew Hogg.

He was figuring in a role that Tottenham's Eric Dier has
played better in recent months - he was one of the relative
successes amid the fiasco that was Euro 2016 - and the
Spurs player will surely adopt the role regularly once more in
the future.

Dele Alli, on target once and a danger on several other
occasions, is best suited to the "number 10" role Rooney once
fitted into neatly, while Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge are
ahead of England's captain as striking options.
So will Rooney now simply move around where he is needed
and become England's bit-part player throughout this World
Cup qualifying campaign?

He was on the ball enough but his influence was marginal.
Only England's man-of-the-match Jordan Henderson (187)
had more touches than Rooney's 177 and he made 153
attempted passes, bettered only by Henderson's 178.
Rooney gained possession on the most occasions, 14, but
also lost it most for England with 25.

Southgate appeared to take issue with the England fans who
jeered Rooney's late, wild attempt on goal, saying: "I don't
understand [the booing] but that seems to be the landscape. I
have no idea how that is expected to help him, for sure."
There are times when it looks like the fire that fuelled Rooney
for so long has burned out and the trademark surges into
opposition territory were barely in evidence against the
massed ranks of Malta's defence.

He showed frustration, too, and was lucky not to receive
serious punishment for a dangerous lunge at Malta captain
Andrei Schembri that appeared to get some of the ball but
also caught the Boavista player with what plenty would have
adjudged to be excessive force.

Rooney may produce the goods in Slovenia but the pressure is
growing as he prepares to win his 118th cap, a record for an
England outfield player. He must deliver displays of
significance soon.


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