England play better football without Wayne Rooney and their best bet for summer success is to keep the Manchester United man out of Roy Hodgson’s starting XI.
There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding Rooney and his ability to perform at the international level since England’s lacklustre first half performance against Peru last Friday – when you’re sat thinking, “Peru are looking pretty tasty against us,” you know there’s a problem.
Wayne’s departure from the game on 66 minutes was the moment England added a bit of fire and character into their performance against the South Americans, and Rahim Sterling, the man brought in to replaces the Manchester United number 10, stole the show for the final 24 minutes, leaving a bitter taste of Rooney in fans mouths.
Paul Scholes’ comments about England’s ‘only world class player – as he’s been labelled throughout his career – did nothing to quieten England fans’ opinion that Rooney’s time to start for his country could be drawing to an end, but it’s not the 28-year-old being past his best that means we should be thinking about a starting XI without wonderful Wayne.
The truth is that his presence on the pitch adds less than he takes away from the team’s play.
Rooney is coming off the back of a pretty good season for Manchester United, and few can deny that his performances for the Red Devils merit a starting place for his country on the world stage. Rooney has showed guts, tenacity and desire for his club and, during its most difficult Premier League season, he has shone as their brightest – and sometimes only – star.
But club performances don’t translate into international form with Wayne and he has continually failed, since Euro 2004, to impress on the big stage in the white shirt of his country.
His ‘world class England player’ tag line, however, has continued to follow him around and that appears to have affected how his fellow teammates treat him on the pitch, seeing him as an essential cog in the play rather than another link in the attacking chain. Rooney is England’s safety net, the player who, if they’re in trouble, players look to to get them out of a hole.
While having this safety net to rely on can be useful, many of England’s attacks stall because player will use the safe option of asking Wayne to provide the moment on inspiration rather than making decisive decisions on their own. His presence on the pitch discourages England’s players from taking any creative responsibility on their own shoulders.
At Euro 2012 England had to suffer without Wayne for their first two games of the tournament, two games that were arguably England’s two toughest of the group. A battling performance against France before a well mastered comeback against Sweden gave Roy Hodgson’s side 4 points when many had expected an early collapse without Wayne. The team’s play, while not world beating, was bold, with Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll, Danny Wellbeck and others carving out opportunities after taking the onus upon themselves play the role of playmaker.
When Rooney re-joined the side for their final group game against the Ukraine, play slowed and the fans saw a bumbling 1-0 victory over the tournament hosts before baring witness to a very one-sided 0-0 draw as Italy finally caught England out on penalties in the quarterfinals.
Those who had been happy to step up and take charge in Wayne’s absence, reverted back to playing a secondary role to the United player, looking for him to provide the x-factor to the side’s play. With a young squad like the one Roy is taking to Brazil this summer, Rooney’s awe-inspiring presence on the pitch could discourage England’s young and inexperienced from letting lose and playing with the flavour of freedom we’ve all been hoping to see.
Will Roy remove England’s safety net and let them play without the fall back of Rooney, and will he be happy to be that x-factor off the bench?
This summer we shall see.