England v Norway: Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith
New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
It is more than 11 years since Wayne Rooney made his England debut at Upton Park as a substitute in an England team that lost 3-1 to Australia, one more unsightly dent to the rusting bodywork of the national team’s reputation. Since then he has seen so many minor catastrophes, fresh dawns, old problems and declarations of new eras that one more will make little difference either way.
The new England captain began the post-2014 World Cup finals era with the promise that the team would “put on a show” against Norway for those estimated 40,000 supporters who will make up the smallest crowd ever for an England game at the rebuilt Wembley. Both Rooney and Roy Hodgson, his manager, pointed out that the crowd will be one of the better attendances for the friendlies around Europe this week, but the general point was accepted: England need to reach out to their supporters again.
From Rooney, there was never going to be a mea culpa on behalf of the team for the disappointment of Brazil. That is just not part of his psychological make-up. Instead, as is his way, he dismissed the summer’s disappointments with a shrug and then peered hopefully into the future.
“The World Cup didn’t go as well as we wanted, and there’s obviously a backlash from that,” Rooney said. “But we want to put on a show and do everything we can to put on a show and win the game. Hopefully we give the support a good result.”
For Hodgson, the diminished crowd was a case, he said, of “glass half full or half empty”. “We had a group of fans in Brazil who were fantastic,” he said. “We’re happy with 40,000 [supporters]. There could be other reasons other than just a poor World Cup. It’s the start of a school term, and people are back at work but our focus is on the performance on the field. We can’t turn back the clock, play Uruguay and Italy again. We have to perform [against Norway]. We are desperate to entertain the crowd who turn up.”
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And so another two-year qualifying cycle beckons, one in which England would have to play extraordinarily badly not to take one of the 23 places on offer at Euro 2016, alongside the hosts, France. All of Hodgson’s team to play Norway apart from John Stones, at right-back, were in his World Cup squad although the retirees over the summer have dramatically reduced the experienced players at his disposal.
The team, that includes the likes of Stones, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, has just 136 caps in total between the nine outfield players excluding Rooney – who has 95. The midfield of Sterling, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, and Oxlade-Chamberlain are the least experienced element, but then these are the best options left to Hodgson with the passing into retirement of the last of the golden generation.
When Hodgson disclosed the team in his briefing with newspaper journalists it very much sounded like he would be playing 4-4-2, or at least 4-4-1-1, with either Rooney or Sturridge dropping to assist the midfield. Not since Bloemfontein and the 4-1 defeat to Germany at the 2010 World Cup finals have an England team approached a game that way. The suspicion is that Hodgson has always been more comfortable with that system.
The Norway game, and the first Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland on Monday, will be more, in Hodgson’s mind, about the players seizing their moment. He warned them that the chance is fleeting.
Roy Hodgson, left, urged his young side to seize the chance to prove themselves as internationals (Getty)
Hodgson said: “I’m not the only one to see the young players’ talent and their chance to be good. Just as many years ago you saw the chance for Rooney and [Steven] Gerrard. They took it. They got their 100 caps. These boys have got a long way to go, Sterling, Sturridge, Lallana, Henderson, Stones, Chambers, Smalling, Jones, Shaw, the list goes on. I defy anyone here to tell me these players are not good enough for the national team.
“But if you say ‘Prove it’, of course, I can’t. They haven’t had the chance to do that. I will give them that chance. I will work to prepare them and I will work to make sure they have a bloody clear idea of what I expect of them and what I won’t tolerate. They’ll either become Rooneys and Gerrards, or they won’t.”
After all the disappointment of four poor tournament performances since Euro 2004, Rooney still says that he believes he can win something with England – “that’ll be the pinnacle of my career” – although he can hardly say otherwise. By the end of this qualifying campaign he should be past David Beckham’s outfield player record of 115 caps and well in sight of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals for England.
Breaking those two records will always make Rooney’s England career a difficult one to assess; he has been the best England player of his generation, but unless the team’s fortunes change dramatically that will be a strictly domestic achievement. He said in Brazil that tournament could be his last World Cup, which means that, for him, this really could be the last new era optimistically regarded as a fresh start.
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