Wayne Rooney’s jaw-dropping exclusion from England’s starting line-ups between now and the beginning of Euro 2012 will cause many a sensational headline in coming days, and may well have a profoundly detrimental effect on the team’s performances in their numerous friendly fixtures in the remainder of the 2011/12 season.
With a showdown against reigning world and European champions Spain to come next month, and February’s rescheduled clash with the Netherlands on the horizon, Fabio Capello is taking a very bold gamble in benching his star player.
There are certainly justifiable reasons behind the Italian’s decision. Rooney is guaranteed to miss at least one group game in Poland and Ukraine, and stands to miss the entire group stage if UEFA’s disciplinary committee take an exceptionally dim view of his rash tackle on Miodrag Tanic in the second half of Friday’s crucial qualifier. Capello must be mindful that he needs to build a squad based on the worst possible scenario – that he is forced to play half of the tournament without the talismanic Rooney leading the line.
As Capello pointed out in his lengthy post-match press conference, there are several strikers available to him if he wishes to replace Rooney. Established internationals Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent are joined in the waiting line by emerging youngsters (Danny Welbeck springs to mind) as well as more experienced players enjoying a rich vein of form, including the likes of Fulham pair Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson. If Capello needs further options, England have a gaggle of ‘in-betweeners’ capable of playing out wide or leading the line, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor being the most obvious selections among that group.
Benching Rooney now, though, may prove a catastrophic decision by a man not noted for his abilities in the field of man-management. Capello has, in the past, demonstrated a fundamental ignorance of this vital managerial tool. Perhaps the most famous example of this deficiency is his rotation of the national captaincy following the fallout of the John Terry affair saga last year.
After several bouts of indecision and second-guessing, the Italian seemed to have settled on Rio Ferdinand, only to change his mind again and tell the Manchester United defender that Terry had regained the role, largely as a result of Ferdinand’s ongoing injury issues. The problem? Capello passed on this message by text message.
Last year’s World Cup produced several more examples of Capello’s struggles in communicating with his players. Once the final squad had been selected, journalists travelling with the team observed that several members of the squad were fully aware that, barring injuries, they would play no part in the tournament. The overriding consensus was that this, unsurprisingly, created a massively negative atmosphere in the England camp and probably contributed to the team’s early demise.
The most important role of any professional, whatever their line of work, is to learn from one’s mistakes. Capello appears too reticent to master this trait. As a result, he now faces nine pivotal months in his England tenure having robbed himself of the best player available to him (at least, for half of every game), having surely damaged the morale and commitment of that particularly fragile individual, and facing more disturbance and uncertainty among the squad he takes to his next tournament. One man will play the first match of Euro 2012, possibly the next one or two as well, under Rooney’s imposing shadow. Rooney himself will be humiliated in the interim.
Potentially, the plan could work – but in practise, it remains to be seen if anyone benefits.