Another English campaign at a major international tournament has left a sour taste in the mouths of fans across the nation. As always an immediate autopsy has commenced to see where all the problems lie. But the fact is that the Three Lions did not perform well in a single game at the tournament, playing a far too rigid, predictable and overly-defensive style of football. Despite only playing in two of the four games, Wayne Rooney has come in for some criticised for his lack of impact in the Italy game with former manager Fabio Capello suggesting that only Sir Alex Ferguson can get him firing.
Rooney had previously suggested that communication in the camp was better with an Englishman in charge and after England were eliminated on penalties by Capello’s native Italy, he had a dig at the 26-year-old. According to The Sun, he said:
“After seeing the latest game, I think Rooney only understands Scottish. That’s because he only plays well in Manchester, where Sir Alex Ferguson speaks Scottish.”
Indeed Rooney had been in fantastic form for Manchester United in the season just past. He scored 27 league goals and eight in other competitions in what was his most prolific season for the Red Devils. Had Manchester City failed in their dramatic late comeback against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the season, Rooney’s winner against Sunderland would have also handed United the Premier League title.
Such form only served to increase the expectations on him to perform at Euro 2012, despite being banned for the first two games. Against Ukraine he looked off the pace and struggled to get involved in the game. Yet he still provided the difference as he nodded in the game’s only goal to put England through top of their group. It is a hallmark of great players that they always manage to make an impact even when they are having an off day.
Yet that trait abandoned him in the quarter-final. He was completely ineffectual throughout the 120 minutes as he spent large parts of the match chasing shadows across the pitch with the Azzurri dominating possession. England rarely got forward and therefore Rooney was unable to make an impact where he has often proved so deadly.
The striker has been criticised heavily but in all fairness the entire team performed well within themselves. The problem was that in Roy Hodgson’s rigid 4-4-2 formation, Rooney was expected to drop back into midfield and pick up Andrea Pirlo. That should not be asked of the team’s most prolific player. He should have been allowed to push on the last man with an extra midfielder coming into the side to provide more competition in the middle of the park.
It was different duty to that which he is used to at Manchester United. If he drops back at Old Trafford, he does so on his own terms and in order to pick up the ball not to mark another player. In actual fact, Rooney got into one of England’s best scoring positions and but for Ignazio Abate’s boot he could have troubled Buffon with a decent header.
Ferguson may command a greater deal of respect than Hodgson but it is not the case that he is the only man who can get the best out of Rooney. He may have struggled to replicate his club form on the international at the last two major tournaments, but both have been as part of an England squad shrouded in controversy.
The comments from Capello smack of sour grapes and Hodgson has been quick to defend Rooney’s efforts in training. But perhaps if Hodgson had played to the striker’s strengths then we could have seen a more positive side of him against Italy. He failed to act on the problems that were clear for all to see during the quarter-final. Most managers would have recognised that changes were needed to get the best out of Rooney, or his team-mates. Vicente Del Bosque showed the boldness required of a top manager when he substituted Xavi during Spain’s semi-final against Portugal.
There is no doubt that Ferguson’s influence on Rooney has been huge. He has curved his wild temper but his passion still remains. While the Scot’s ability to keep him performing must not be undermined, he is not the only reason that the striker has become a world class player. Lest we forget Rooney handed in a transfer request in 2010 that would not have done wonders for his relations with the United boss which suggests that he does not see Ferguson as the key to his ability. It is not a case of the manager getting the best from the player, but rather the tactics angled in the best interests of the team’s star.