Capello: Rooney can lead from front

'Natural leader' will stand in if Terry fails to shake off foot injury ahead of Brazil match
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The Independent Football

Captain Rooney. It does have a ring to it and yesterday, as Fabio Capello announced that Wayne Rooney is the first choice to skipper England tonight against Brazil in John Terry's absence, there was further evidence that a special bond is growing between manager and star player.

The Italian is not given to hyperbole but he certainly invoked some of the biggest names in football to justify his decision to install Rooney as the man at the head of the line when England walk out at the Khalifa Stadium tonight. Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini and Diego Maradona were all used as examples of dazzling international players who proved equally effective captains of their countries.

It was heavy-duty stuff from the England manager whose immediate response to the announcement of Rooney's potential honour was an indignant: "Why you smile? I think Rooney will be ready to be a captain. Why not? Why not? Why not?"

The smiles were chiefly because minutes earlier, Gareth Barry had been sent to sit in the pre-match press conference chair that ordinarily would have been assigned to Terry as captain. The assumption was that solid, dependable Barry – who captained his former club Aston Villa for what seemed like about 107 years – was going to get the job in the absence of the injured Terry.

Capello wandered into the room as Barry was talking, which did not help the flow of a player who is not the most confident when speaking, and the Italian seemed in playful mood. Capello pinched a sweet from a bowl on the table (his players are banned from snacks between meals on England duty) and began grumbling that things were taking too long for his liking.

When he finally came to speak, Capello was intent on stirring a bit of controversy and announced that Rooney would be captain with the kind of studied detachedness that he might employ to pick an expensive bottle of red off a wine list. "I think it will be Rooney," he said, enjoying the reaction.

"I think when you choose a player to be a captain, he has to be a leader in the dressing room or a leader on the pitch," Capello said. "For me, that's really important. Rooney is always a leader on the pitch. Yes, in the dressing room too. He's young so less in the dressing room. But he can be.

"I remember the best players in the world – Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Platini, Maradona – they were captains, no? They scored goals? So why not [Rooney]? I don't understand why not. You have to be a leader on the pitch. Yes? All the best players were captains. They were also captains of their national teams

"The captain is John Terry. The vice-captain is Rio [Ferdinand] because they are really good on the pitch and really good in the dressing room. I think now we need one leader on the pitch because we miss a lot of players [tonight]. For this reason, I will choose this player [Rooney] – if John Terry is not playing."

Terry did not play any role in the evening training session last night having injured his foot blocking a shot from Jermaine Jenas in training on Thursday and it is not envisaged that he will figure tonight. The Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott is the favourite to take his place alongside Matthew Upson in the centre of a back four that will not have a single member of England's first-choice defence in it.

As for the reasons Rooney's temperament might not make him the most suitable captain for England, well, how long have you got? But Capello seems to regard the history of this team before his time in charge as a completely separate entity. He does not seem to mind that in May last year, Rooney made two dreadful tackles in the Wembley friendly against the United States. He trusts the calming influence of marriage and responsibility will work wonders on the 24-year-old.

Like Maradona in 1982, Rooney's World Cup in 2006 ended with a red card. And Capello will be hoping that, like Maradona in 1986, he finishes the next as a winner. As for Rooney's "12 men" reference about referee Martin Atkinson after the defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, Capello simply said that Rooney "was not happy. He has to understand that the next game he will be focused because he will be the captain of the national team."

Don't let anyone tell you that Capello does not have a sense of humour because he summed up by saying with mock horror, "Don't suspend me after this," – a reference to Sir Alex Ferguson's outburst over Alan Wiley. In one stroke he made light of the most powerful manager in the Premier League and the disciplinary department of his own employers.

Darren Bent is "60 per cent" likely to get the nod to partner Rooney in attack, a great opportunity for him to stake a claim in Emile Heskey's absence. Stephen Warnock also has a chance to start ahead of Wayne Bridge at left-back. The injuries, Capello said, meant that he could test out some new players for once. "The cup is always half full of water for me."

The injuries and absentees also mean that if England happen to be steamrollered by the most fearsome football nation on earth there is a ready-made excuse. Capello made the distinction yesterday that Brazil are a very direct, fast team under Dunga while Spain, another major rival at South Africa next summer, are more about possession and build-up. With all those missing, tonight will mainly be about Rooney and how he behaves and plays with the burden of captaincy.