England v Costa Rica World Cup 2014: Wayne Rooney puts weight behind Roy Hodgson to lead England forward
Striker who looks set to become national captain after Gerrard steps aside says the current manager has plans to build a successful team
It is 79 days until England run out to face Switzerland in Basle in the first of their Euro 2016 qualifiers. Just 48 hours after their elimination from the World Cup finals it feels a long way off, but the pace at which the focus of football changes means that it will be upon us before long and with all the attendant examination of the team’s credentials, post-World Cup 2014.
In Switzerland, Roy Hodgson is revered. It is 20 years since he took their national team to a World Cup finals and did considerably better than he has done this time around. They drew with the hosts the United States in the first game, beat Romania and lost to Colombia, easing out the US for second place in the group and qualifying for the next round. They were beaten 3-0 by Spain but no matter, they had already outperformed expectations.
In Basle it will be the locals who will welcome Hodgson. The travelling England fans will have reason to be a lot more circumspect, especially facing a side who have shown some flair at times in the competition thus far, notwithstanding the 5-2 defeat by France on Friday night. Already the Football Association will be looking forward to the friendly match against Norway in September as a barometer for attitudes towards their manager.
Into the breach yesterday stepped Wayne Rooney with as fulsome a defence of the England manager as you are likely to get from a player who rarely tends towards the effusive. Hodgson and Steven Gerrard will have their say today at England’s soon-to-be-dismantled £80,000 Vauxhall-sponsored media centre. Rooney spelled it out quite bluntly. He said Hodgson has changed the way England played, for the better.
“We have to start well in the qualifiers because we want to be in the next tournament,” Rooney said. “The fans will see some exciting football, but we have to turn that exciting football into results. That’s the plan, that’s the aim. Roy has moved us forward in my eyes since the previous tournament. I know we haven’t progressed [into the second round], but he’s moved us forward. It’s tough to say that or believe that now, but I’ve been in this squad for over 10 years now and that’s being truthful and honest.”
A cynic might argue that Rooney is bound to say that. He is the main candidate to succeed Gerrard as captain, who is likely to announce his international retirement today, to come into effect after the Costa Rica game on Tuesday. But Rooney has never been a politician in that regard. When he does speak he says what is on his mind because his status as a star for club and country permits him to do so.
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Certainly, Rooney seems to hold no lingering bitterness about being shoved out to the left against Italy – in fairness, he has not complained about it once. He even managed a joke yesterday. Asked what side he would now like to see win the tournament, Rooney shot back “Holland”. It took a heartbeat for us to get the joke, as nicely subtle as one of his outside-of-the-foot passes.
That aside, it was not really the day for brave proclamations about the future. We have had enough of those in the last few weeks. Instead Rooney just offered a simple assurance that he would continue playing for as long as he could and that he wanted to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s England goalscoring record of 49, now that he is within nine goals of it.
On the future of the squad, Rooney said that it was a good crop of young players and also that, unlike his own emergence a decade ago, there was a group of them rather than just one. He and Joe Hart made all the usual noises about their being a steady supply of young English players although the statistics do not really back that up. Greg Dyke’s recent commission report showed that the English talent pool is less than half that which Germany, France and Spain have to pick from.
“Roy has brought a lot of youth and excitement into the team,” Rooney said. “It hasn’t worked out for us in this tournament, but he’s certainly got his plans in place for the next two years, and we’ll try and execute those plans.
“As a country, we’ve seen how well a lot of the young lads have done. We were asking for them to play. They’ve been picked, deservedly so. It’s a learning curve for us all. If we can learn this quickly, we can improve on this and we’ll do better in the next tournament. Roy is a fantastic manager and fantastic person in my eyes, and he’s the right man to take us forward.”
Greg Dyke’s recent commission report showed that the English talent pool is less than half that which Germany, France and Spain have to pick from The talk of “plans in place” made it sound as if Hodgson has sat Rooney down and talked him through his intentions for the next two years. Perhaps he has promised him the captaincy too, although neither would talk about the end of Gerrard’s England career until the man himself announces it. It felt similar to the alliance that David Moyes struck with Rooney at Manchester United. Hodgson will hope that the comparisons end there.
Asked the simple question as to why England had lost to two opponents whom Costa Rica, ranked 18 places below them had beaten, Hart conceded that he was stumped. “They’ve been tough games for Costa Rica and they’ve come out the right side. We’ve had two tough games and come out the wrong side. It’s a simple question but a tough one to answer,” he explained.
As ever with England, the big questions are the impossible ones to answer. But on they go to Euro 2016 qualifying – via Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Hodgson battles on, and with Rooney at his side.
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