An international cap is a sacred thing. Short of winning silverware, representing your country is the highest achievement that a player can hope for. It’s a proud moment. And for too long we’ve allowed pride to get in the way of our decision-making.
When Wayne Rooney was substituted after an hour in England’s recent game against Denmark, he left a quiet game in which he earned his 89th cap, your typical international friendly that goes a long way to support the argument for irrelevance of such matches. And yet with his withdrawal, things began to get a lot more interesting.
The joint introduction of Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck after 60 minutes changed the game. Now there was movement. With players running into space at speed, the chances England created increased exponentially, and we got the game’s only goal. Although football is often made out to be a very complicated game, it can be incredibly simple. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that when you’ve lots of fast players who don’t stop moving, the other team finds it very difficult to defend.
The consequences of such a drastic change in fortunes must be questioned. Yes it was only 30 minutes of football. And yes it was a friendly against Denmark. But so clear was the change in England’s forward play that it would be idiotic not to seriously consider what this means.
The simplest thing to deduce from the game would be England played better without Wayne Rooney. This is hard conclusion to make sense of as Rooney is also England’s best footballer. However, England have regularly not played well with Wayne Rooney in the team, so there is no reason to expect his talent alone is enough to insure the team performs. And if this alternative combination of youth and pace proves to be more effective, there are no reasons other than normative ones for choosing the striker at the World Cup.
For a long time in England, there has been too high a value assigned quality when choosing the national team. Whilst this is an undeniably important aspect, emphasizing any one factor too much tends to have a detrimental affect on the thing as a whole. By concentrating too much on this single attribute, the values of form and effectiveness have gone underappreciated.
For instance, the selection of Emile Heskey was regularly balked at by fans and pundits because he was said to be ‘not good enough’ to play for England. Not good enough for whom? Heskey was certainly good enough to cause trouble for the opposition defence and tended to have a greater affect on games than the more technically gifted strikers whose inclusion people called for.
It would seem that Heskey was not good enough for them. This relative preference for quality above all else appears to be borne out of some sort of insecurity. The fear is that if we send players who are technically poor and lose, we will look inferior. Where as if we play our technically best players and still lose, there will be somehow less shame attached to it. In reality, the really shameful thing is to pick a team that has less of a chance of winning than you could have done out of fear.
This fear seems to be the motivation behind those saying ‘you can’t not pick Wayne Rooney’. Well why can’t you? Yes, he may be a better footballer than Raheem Sterling, but if the team has a better chance of winning with Sterling, or Lallana, or Oxlade-Chamberlain or even Danny Welbeck, then they should be on the pitch instead of Rooney.
It’s not stupid to leave Rooney out if you’ve got good reason to. And on the basis of last Wednesday there may be just such a reason. What is stupid is to pick the striker ahead of more effective alternatives in nothing other than hope.
Unless Roy Hodgson has good reason for believing the temperamental forward will be more effective than his contemporaries, then he should go with the team that gives England the best chance of winning. Anything else would be idiotic. Anything else is cowardice.