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World Cup 2010: "It's time to drop Rooney"
Published : 21 Jun 2010 11:02:56
Wayne Rooney has worn the England talisman tag, now it is time for him to don the Super Sub label. That is the serious consideration Fabio Capello has to mull over before Wednesday's crucial World Cup Group C match against Slovenia. As someone who reported and marvelled at the United striker's excellent August to the end of March form for the Reds, it pains me to say it but the nation's under-fire Italian coach now has to bench the 24-year-old hitman in Port Elizabeth. It is not about making Rooney the scapegoat for England's disappointing opener against the USA, nor the even more abject and unacceptable display against Algeria last Friday night, nor punishing him for his childish response to the jeers that greeted England last Friday after the 0-0 stalemate with Algeria. It is not a knee-jerk hysterical reaction to facing World Cup exit and humiliation just seven days and two matches into the tournament and let's look to the biggest name and make him pay to shock the rest of the squad into a reaction. It is about what is best for England and Wayne Rooney. He has apologised for his heat of the moment outburst in front of the TV cameras when he attacked England fans. That is now a closed chapter. But quite evidently Rooney is either completely out of juice, he isn't comfortable in Capello's game plan, or as the Italian reckons, The problem is in his mind. Ludicrous Whatever the reason, sitting on his hands and doing nothing is surely not an option for Capello with his future and England's World Cup hanging by a thread. Axing Rooney completely would be ludicrous. But having Rooney as a revved up option among the subs as insurance is a sensible alternative under the circumstances. Wearing the Super Sub label is not one Rooney has had to endure too much in his Old Trafford career. Nor is it a tag that sits too comfortably with him. Sir Alex Ferguson rarely chooses to omit the £30m striker from his first choice XI. But it has been known and it has worked on some of the biggest stages. The last time Rooney had to remain in his tracksuit at the kick off for the Reds was at Wembley back in February for the Carling Cup final against Aston Villa. By choice Fergie decided on a brief winter rest for United's star performer for the clash with the big spring push around the corner. However, Michael Owen's hamstring injury after 42 minutes forced Sir Alex's hand and with the game locked at 1-1 it was inevitably that a fired up Rooney answered the call and won the trophy for the Reds with a second half header. In December 2008 in Japan at the FIFA Club World Cup, Rooney sat on the bench for United's opening match in the tournament against Gamba Osaka. But when Fergie called upon him in Yokohama he plundered two goals in seven minutes of getting on. Three days later he was United's man of the match and goal hero as they became World Champions against Liga de Quito. Of course, those are two moments when the tactic has worked but the flip side of the coin is that you are taking the risk of winding up Rooney so much by taking him out of the firing line that when he does return he is an out-of-control accident waiting to happen. If he were to be left on the bench against Slovenia and things were not going well for England, would it be Rooney the focused calm hero of the hour or Rooney with the red mist ready to descend at any moment? In season 2008-09 when Sir Alex Ferguson chose to rest Rooney at Craven Cottage things went badly for the Reds. When he came on at half-time and couldn't turn the ship around against Fulham the frustrated striker was eventually sent off. Which Rooney reaction would you get in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is anybody's guess but can England or the Reds hitman continue to hope whatever is troubling him will kick into life without some form of assistance. On occasions it seems Rooney needs to be taken out of the firing line either for recuperation reasons or to fire up his form and he storms back. He appears to have reached that point with England in South Africa. Iron-fisted Capello is supposed to be the no-nonsense figure who doesn't have favourites and no player has a guaranteed place in his XI. It is a characteristic that pre-World Cup everybody was claiming was just what England have needed for years. Post-Steve McClaren era when it was all very chummy and Stevie G this and Wazza that from the England coach, the Italian doesn't have a players' pal' approach and was looked on as the perfect antidote to McClaren's unsuccessful way. Choices Shaking up the England squad hierarchy and putting everyone on their toes saw the team storm through qualification. Capello has not been shy of making a big decision or two whether it was right or wrong. Axing John Terry as captain, for example, or dropping Robert Green following his blunder against the USA, were the actions of a man prepared to ruffle feathers. The time has come for him to earn his £6m a year FA contract and make another choice that you couldn't have forseen when England's plane landed on South African soil two weeks ago. England now seem so lacking in ideas and Rooney such a heavy touch shadow of his former self, that it would seem something drastic has to be done. Rooney hasn't been the player whose outstanding form saw him win both the PFA and Football Writers' prestigious Footballer of the year awards with a landslide majority since he collapsed clutching his ankle in the Allianz Arena in United's fateful Champions League match against Bayern Munich. Crossing your fingers that he'll wake up one morning and his pre-March 30 form will be on tap again, is surely now no longer an option. Alf Ramsey didn't choose to drop his first choice Jimmy Greaves in 1966 but when the prolific scorer was injured in a final group game against France and his replacement Geoff Hurst scored in the quarter-finals, the England manager made the decision to stick with the latter. It wasn't initially a well received decision by Ramsey but history proved his judgement spot on. Resting the player who was our pre-tournament world class ticket to success could be Capello's Ramsey moment. A Rooney-less England might just be the once unthinkable, but unexpected, gamble that sparks our World Cup. Lighting a fire under Rooney by letting him brood and boil on the bench against the Slovenians, wouldn't break Rooney but it could also make him.