There is a default setting among the England managers of the last nine years that Wayne Rooney will be the solution to all the fundamental problems of their team. Invited to look towards the future on Tuesday night, Roy Hodgson's response suggested he is thinking along the same lines.
Hodgson was asked about how, as Rooney approaches his 27th birthday next month, he might be able to coax the best from the footballer who is regarded as the most talented Englishman of his generation. It has been a problem that has consumed Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello and all have gambled on Rooney saving their skins.
"We'll get the best out of him because he's desperate to play for England," Hodgson said. "He's an excellent footballer and he's a quality player and with quality players the quality is permanent."
Having just seen his team take 86 minutes – and require a penalty – in order to salvage a draw against Ukraine, the lack of goals was evidently on Hodgson's mind. "The sooner he [Rooney] comes back into our fold the better because we are short of experienced and quality front players in England. "
With 29 goals in 76 caps, Rooney is indeed the highest goalscorer among England's current players, if we assume Michael Owen will not play international football again. But if England are to base their qualification for the World Cup in 2014, and indeed their progress in Brazil itself –provided they qualify – largely on Rooney, that is simply offering up the same hostage to fortune as the last three tournaments. At Euro 2004, Rooney, at 18, made an impact few had predicted. In 2006, 2010 and 2012 he fell well short of expectations.
It begged the question of an England that does not rely on Rooney, a question that Hodgson will surely have to consider at some point. Andy Carroll (eight caps and two goals) is presumably the man for the long ball. Ditto Peter Crouch (42 caps and 22 goals), now exiled from the England set-up because he turned down the chance to go on standby for the Euro 2012 squad. Crouch's goals-to-minutes ratio is one every 99 minutes. Rooney's is one every 194 minutes. Jermain Defoe only scores once every 123 minutes.
The best alternative on Tuesday looked like Danny Welbeck. Otherwise, at the very least some sort of rapprochement with Crouch looks necessary in order that the reliance on Rooney is not too acute.
Take away Frank Lampard's goals and England's struggle to find the net is highlighted by the totals of the 13 outfield players who faced Ukraine.Reuse content