England coach Fabio Capello has dropped a clear hint that Wayne Rooney will be going to next summer's European Championship.
Capello has not spoken about Rooney since the Manchester United striker was handed a three-match ban by Uefa for his red card in Montenegro earlier this month. It is still to be decided whether the Football Association will launch an appeal against the suspension, which means Rooney will be ruled out of the entire group stage of the competition in Poland and Ukraine.
The widespread view among professionals is that Rooney should go, even though, as Sir Alex Ferguson pointedly remarked on Monday, England may not even qualify for the knockout stages, which would render the 25-year-old a non-playing member of Capello's squad.
But, speaking at a Club Wembley breakfast yesterday, Capello indicated Rooney would be part of his plans as part of an observation about the balance of younger players and older ones in his squad. "The young players are really good and ready to play with the seniors, and the experience of the seniors is really important," said Capello.
"During the games we need some leaders, people that know something.
"Jack Wilshere is incredible because he is so young. We also need the experience of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Scott Parker. You need this kind of player, plus Rooney, I hope."
Ferdinand might also be pleased to receive a name check after he was left out of the squad for the final Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro.
But Rooney, more than any other player, has the ability to lift England to the next level and he got back on the goal trail on Tuesday night with two penalties in United's Champions League defeat of Otelul Galati, which took his tally for the season to 11.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were two of Rooney's team-mates on Tuesday, part of a group of English youngsters who have emerged over the past few months to give fresh hope for the future. Capello does not want to pile too much expectation on their shoulders just yet. However, he does believe the overall balance of his squad is far better than when he took charge almost four years ago. "I am happy with my players," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in them. There are not many young players in the world who are better than the English ones. But you need to wait until the end of the season to understand if they are at the top and ready to play with the seniors.
"We had a gap between the oldest and the young. Now, with people like Wilshere, Jones, [Danny] Welbeck, [Daniel] Sturridge – it's really interesting. It will be a really good team for the next Euros."
However, the key to England's chances of success will be in the preparation. Prior to the World Cup in South Africa, Capello took his players to a training camp in Austria for 10 days. England then had another 10-day period together in South Africa before their opening game.
Capello's instinct is to halve that time next summer. "The players arrived at the World Cup really tired," said Capello. "In the friendly games before we went to South Africa, we won but did not play well, like the games we played to qualify.
"The players were not so fast, not so good. We need to change something at the end of the season"