The running debate over Wayne Rooney’s England career continues, against vastly inferior opposition, Malta, he once again failed to shine and was even subject to boos after skewing a shot wide near the end of the match.
The Manchester United man has had a dismal season, scoring only once in 10 games, having started only a handful of those games as a striker. He has mainly been used in the number 10 role just behind the striker for his club but in recent weeks he has failed to impress Jose Mourinho, who has dropped him to the bench and there are now calls from many England fans for Gareth Southgate to do the same.
Rooney is England’s highest ever goalscorer, he currently sits on 53 goals in 117 appearances and he is only 8 games away from equalling Peter Shilton’s all-time caps record but he now looks a shadow of his former self. We are used to seeing Rooney leading the line for club and country, running at defences, scoring outrageous goals and always popping up in the right place to get the finishing touch. However, his recent tendency to drop deeper and deeper is the source of much agitation for many fans.
The problem is that Rooney now sees himself as a midfielder, speaking in May he told BBC Sport, “Sometimes you have to make choices in your career and at the moment it’s better for me to play deeper, next season with Manchester United, that’s where I see myself playing.” He was then used as a midfielder at Euro 2016 by Roy Hodgson, despite having never played there for his country before, his performances, in particular, drew the brunt of the criticism following England’s shambolic exit at the hands of Iceland.
“He will never be a no.6 or no.8”
Like all of England’s players he returned to his club hanging his head in shame, Jose Mourinho then informed the world that Rooney’s earlier prediction was incorrect. He stated “He will never be 50 metres from the goal. For me he will be a No 9 or a No 10 or a nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6 or even a No 8.” True to his word, Mourinho began the season starting Rooney behind Ibrahimović but Rooney proved himself not up to the task.
The attacking intent seems to have disappeared from his game, these days he can regularly be seen dropping all the way back to his team’s centre-backs to receive the ball and on occasion he has even been known to be the deepest player when even his own team is attacking. This displeased Mourinho who instead now prefers the threat of Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata in midfield.
This problem was again highlighted in Sam Allardyce’s one match in charge of England. After retaining him as captain, Allardyce announced that he would play ‘attacking midfielder up front.’ Yet in the match, Rooney ignored his manager’s instructions and played in defensive midfield. Unsurprisingly, this left a hole in England’s forward line when attacked and they didn’t look like scoring for large parts of the Slovakia game. As belies Rooney’s seemingly untouchable status in the England set-up, Allardyce refused to criticise him after the match but he did begrudgingly admit that Rooney played deeper than he would have liked.
No touches in opposition area
If any other player disobeyed the manager’s plans they could expect to find themselves out of the team but Rooney continues to captain and regularly start for his country. This new defence-minded Rooney was in full force against Malta. Many expected England to roll the minnows over and that this was Rooney’s perfect opportunity for Rooney to find his shooting boots and kickstart his scoring run for his country but he simply did not seem at all interested in doing that.
He started in midfield but incredibly he did not have a single touch in the Maltese box, yes you read that right! He gave the ball away more times than any other England player and was largely limited to the poor effort late on that drew the boos from the Wembley crowd, who were less than impressed with only a 2-0 win over the side ranked 176th in the world. Especially after Scotland has put five past them the previous round of fixtures.
This all leads to the question, do England really need Rooney? In one sense the answer is yes, England need the old Rooney, the Rooney that was deadly and would give his all for the side. These days though the Rooney we see is happy to just sit in front on the back four, get the ball pass it sideways and try for the odd Hollywood pass while he watches his teammates try and score a goal. England does not need this Rooney.
England have strength-in-depth in midfield
He has scarcely done anything of note in England’s midfield and I am at a loss to explain why every England manager deems it so necessary that Rooney is in the starting XI. Rooney’s game has regressed so much over the last two years and it is beginning to undermine the FA that he keeps his place without question. England thrive on players giving their all in order to gain national selection and keep their place but if the same squad is picked regardless of form, what is the incentive to seek selection in the first place?
Arguably, the only positive thing he has done for the England national team in the last year has been to displace Harry Kane as set-piece taker, a decision that the whole of England is still trying to figure out. As a captain, it is his duty to give more or step aside. He clearly has no intention of stepping aside as he rather arrogantly announced he would retire from international duty after the 2018 World Cup. Perhaps he should focus more on ensuring he plays well enough to deserve his place there in the first place.
England have a plethora of midfielders that have played in that position all their lives, Eric Dier, Danny Drinkwater, Michail Antonio, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and James Milner have all had to sit by and watch Rooney fill their natural position. England have lost the opportunity to call upon Milner as a result, he quit internationals after Euro 2016.
Rooney’s reputation is fading fast, while I don’t expect him to be in immediate danger due to Southgate’s glowing praise of him, it would be unwise for him not to take note. He has changed his game so much without thinking how it might change the team. He may still be ‘Golden Boy’ with the FA but the fans are beginning to turn. If he continues on this road he may well be in Russia but at the expense of being the least popular England captain ever. Is it time to go, on all the evidence, yes.
Feature image credit: Cushdy