England’s emphatic win against world champions Germany on Saturday night contained everything our national team has been accused of lacking throughout Roy Hodgson’s four-year tenure; energy, mobility, attacking prowess and most of all, fearlessness under pressure. A three-goal comeback against the heaviest of heavyweight opposition in their own backyard deserves much praise, after all.
Roy’s young Lions don’t show the same scars of disappointment on the world stage as the many generations before them and whilst the England of 2012 or 2014 may have shut up shop upon finding themselves 2-0 down at the interval, wilting under the pressure of further humiliation, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and co only grew in the confidence of having nothing left to lose.
But more significant than those involved in England’s captivating comeback were the absentees, those either left on the bench by Hodgson or back at home to nurse their injuries. Veteran midfielder Michael Carrick, crocked ‘Golden Boy’ Jack Wilshere and benched trio James Milner, Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge, five established names amongst the England fold sharing 117 caps between them, all fall into that category, but no absence was more notable than that of Three Lions captain, Wayne Rooney.
As a consequence, ‘anti-Rooney’ sentiment has once again re-emerged. It has accompanied the Manchester United striker for much of his international career; the idea that his struggles for fitness have singlehanded nullified England’s progression at every major tournament, the notion that our ‘greatest’ player just isn’t great enough. But it carries more weight than ever now amid an underwhelming campaign at Old Trafford that has seen the ageing forward sidelined through injury since early February.
Yet, there is an obvious paradox in suggesting England should jettison their most naturally gifted footballer of the last 15 years the moment the rest of the team is suddenly filled with talents of similar measure. It’s like deciding to throw away your £1,000 tie because you’ve just bought an equally luxurious suit, or soiling your satin sheets because you’ve upgraded to a golden bed frame.
Of course, your old tie, no matter how expensive, might not match your new and luxurious suit – an analogy that certainly applies to ‘Wazza Roo’. Whilst the side that defied the odds against Germany last weekend overflowed with youthful mobility, industriousness and vigour, Rooney isn’t the bullish bundle of attacking energy he once was.
Likewise, he’s behind Kane and Jamie Vardy for a striker slot in terms of form this season as well as Alli and Ross Barkley in the pecking order at No.10, whilst lacking the penetrative threat Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott or Danny Welbeck offer from out wide. With the engine room equally congested, overall, there’s no position Rooney can currently make an unrivalled claim for.
Yet, more than any tournament England have ever been involved in, the squad must take precedent over the starting XI at Euro 2016. The Three Lions may lack top drawer talent when compared to Germany, Spain, France or Belgium but the level of depth at Hodgson’s disposal is vast and diverse in every department. Maximising its full potential could well require fielding three significantly different starting XIs during England’s group games and should that be the case, it seems unimaginable room can’t be made for Rooney in at least one of them.
‘Why should room be made for Rooney?’ a disgruntled England fan might cry, having grown tired of the big club favouritism that always seems to accompany our national team and the pedigree-over-form-perspective that has affected every England selection since 1966. Rooney’s rarely produced the goods for the Three Lions in major tournaments and has slowly but steadily declined domestically since nearly firing United to the Premier League title during the 2011/12 season.
Yet, he’s still England’s captain, who recently became England’s all-time leading goalscorer, and not only lead, but fired his country to the EUROs with seven strikes in qualifying. He’s also by far the most experienced player at Hodgson’s disposal in both domestic and international terms, boasting nearly double the amount of caps of any player included in England’s current squad.
Throwing away all that experience and proven ability, simply because of one resounding display in a friendly, albeit against reigning world champions who fielded their near-strongest starting team, would be incredibly short-sighted on Hodgson’s part. And the simple hypocrisy is that for all those voices calling for Rooney to be left at home, England would look infinitely more stupid if they failed to escape the group stages upon exiling their most experienced player, their best performer in qualifying and their captain.
Whether it’s as a starter or a substitute, Hodgson must make room for Rooney on the plane to Euro 2016.