Capello's conundrum: how to rebuild team without star player

England could take Euro 2012 gamble with Rooney even though they may be knocked out before he plays

Click to follow
The Independent Football

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 finals 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 one removed, Sven Goran Eriksson, pushed ahead and picked the individuals anyway. This time, in Rooney's case, Capello will, depending on the appeal process, be without the player for three games. There will be no hope of a miracle recovery. England could easily be eliminated by the time Rooney is eligible to play. So what does Capello do?

For all those urging a hard-hearted pragmatism on Capello, the basic truth is that he is in thrall to the talents of England's leading player as much as Eriksson or Steve McClaren were. Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson, who has dropped the striker on occasions, England managers have not seen fit to do so since Rooney first established himself in the national team eight years ago.

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 in Capello's demeanour that he was considering dispensing with his primary asset in Poland and Ukraine next summer. Like so many managers, he has an unshakeable faith in talent, whatever the flaws that come with it.

This was one pertinent exchange between Capello and reporters on the subject of Rooney last Friday. Question: Will you take Rooney to the Euros? Capello: "Yes." Q: But what if it is a two-game ban? Capello: "I hope it's one."

When the news was broken to Cap-ello 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. But this morning the reality that he will have to rebuild his team without his key player will be sinking in.

England's problem – and it was a problem before yesterday's bombshell – 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 and none of them depends upon one individual to the extent that England rely on Rooney.

After Rooney, what is left for Capello? He has Steven Gerrard coming back to fitness 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 same 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. After all, Capello picked Ledley King among his 23 players for the last World Cup despite the fact that the Tottenham captain's chronic knee problems meant he had never previously been available to Capello. The England manager judged it a risk worth taking. King did not play after the first game.

Rooney has always been an awkward tourist, and watching England battle through the group stages will ask a lot of his patience. It is a well-intentioned plan by the FA to base England in the centre of Krakow but, in all reality, the notion of Phil Jagielka going out for a coffee is rather different to the prospect of Rooney going out of the hotel doors for a walk around the city.

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. It is a huge decision for the England manager and neither option looks particularly attractive this morning.

Living without Roo... England's options

Trust in youth

Talk about a gamble. Danny Welbeck, the Manchester United striker, so far has two England caps to his name but he could usurp Aston Villa's Darren Bent in the lone striker role for his country between now and the end of the season. Welbeck would receive attacking support from his Old Trafford team-mate Ashley Young to his left and from Arsenal flyer Theo Walcott to his right, with the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard handed the Rooney role just behind Welbeck. Scott Parker is the holding midfielder and Jack Wilshere will have to do his fair share of defensive duties as well, fitness permitting of course.

Go old-fashioned

It hasn't worked once for England at major tournaments in the last 40 years but the tried-and-trusted 4-4-2 formation was Fabio Capello's first love. Instead of leaving Bent out, he would team up with Welbeck up top, with nobody playing in the Rooney role. It is a very attacking line-up with no obvious defensive midfielders – remember, Capello has recently favoured two in Parker and Gareth Barry. Presumably, Wilshere will have to do the dirty work and Gerrard would not be able to get forward as often as he likes. This team looks perfect to be picked off by the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.