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How to rebuild without a star player like Rooney


Usually the bleak news for England ahead of a major tournament comes closer to the reckoning. In 2002, David Beckham broke his metatarsal two months before it began. Ahead of the 2006 World Cup, Michael Owen broke a metatarsal six months before the tournament. Wayne Rooney's ankle injury before the World Cup last year was at the end of March.

If there is any consolation for Fabio Capello from yesterday's body blow that the England team will be without Rooney for all three group games at Euro 2012, then it was that at least he has got the bad news early. But when it comes to the good news, that is just about it.

On all three previous occasions when injury has afflicted the team's key players, Capello, and his predecessor once removed, Sven Goran Eriksson, picked the individuals anyway. This time Capello will, depending on the appeal process, be without the player for three games. England could easily be eliminated by the time Rooney is eligible to play. So what does Capello do?

In the aftermath of the 2-2 draw with Montenegro last Friday, when Rooney was sent off for kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic, there was no indication that Capello was considering dispensing with his primary asset next summer.

When the news was broken to Capello yesterday that Rooney had been hit with a three-game punishment, his immediate reaction was that no firm decision could be made without the FA even knowing whether it could appeal. England's problem is that they are so heavily reliant on one player. Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, who all cruised through qualifying for Euro 2012, have far superior squads to Capello's. After Rooney, what is left for Capello? He has Steven Gerrard coming back after six months out and he will be a crucial part of next month's friendlies against Spain and Sweden. By then the Liverpool captain, arguably England's best player after Rooney, will not have played an international for 12 months and, at 31, it is by no means certain he will be the Gerrard of old.

The other bright shining light of the England team, Jack Wilshere, is out until February. In terms of forwards, Andy Carroll has been unable to convince Capello even to put him on the bench for the last three qualifiers. Carroll has been overtaken by 20-year-old Danny Welbeck, who has only two caps.

Eight months before the start of a tournament is early for the pessimism about England's chances to kick in but this time it is difficult to find much to be positive about. It is for that reason that there will be a strong temptation for Capello to gamble on Rooney even if he goes to Euro 2012 with a three-match ban.

Rooney has always been an awkward tourist, and watching England battle through the group stages will ask a lot of his patience. Even not playing, Rooney will be the focus of England next summer. Capello must take that into consideration when he judges whether it is wise to take him.