Eriksson keeps faith as Rooney's fate rests on Ascension Day scan
Thursday 18 May 2006
Ascension Day will not have only Christian connotations for Sven Goran Eriksson next Thursday. The England manager has circled 25 May as the date he elevates Theo Walcott from obscurity at Highbury to the international stage and lifts the uncertainty that surrounds Michael Owen's fitness by deploying both in the 'B' team friendly with Belarus. As though to complete the trinity, it has now become the day Wayne Rooney discovers what part he has to play at this summer's World Cup.
The Manchester United striker will undergo a scan on his broken metatarsal a week today, one that will reveal the extent of his recovery since collapsing at Stamford Bridge on 29 April and whether Sir Alex Ferguson was right to describe the 20-year-old's participation in the knock-out stages in Germany as "a wild dream".
Eriksson has defied Ferguson's verdict throughout the rehabilitation of the striker and there was little to tempt the England manager to change his optimistic tone as he sat with his back to the Atlantic Ocean on a sun-kissed Algarve yesterday.
Eriksson said: "I have been told he will have another scan on the 25th and, after that, we will have a much better idea of what is going to happen. I've always been positive, not for medical reasons but because I know he will do absolutely everything to get fit as quickly as possible. Wayne Rooney not in the World Cup? I don't think he even believes that is the truth. Of course he should be there. I spoke to him last week. He's working hard, doing everything they ask of him and maybe more. He is one of the best players in the world and is desperate to compete with Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. It is understandable that he wants to be on that stage."
By the time he enters Reading's Madejski Stadium next week, Eriksson will have a clear sense of how a defining day in his England reign is unfolding, but he will not alter his view on England's credentials if Rooney is omitted. "We are prepared," he said. "We will not stand or fall on one player."
England's training camp has been designed as part bonding exercise, part physical preparation for this summer's tournament in light of the mistakes that preceded the 2002 World Cup. "Before Japan we went to Dubai four days after the FA Cup final and in every second half we didn't play well. Hopefully this time will be different," said Eriksson.
As such, and without a definite answer on Rooney, the Swede refused to dwell on the idea that Steven Gerrard had provided an ideal solution to an England attack minus his fellow Scouser with his performance in this season's FA Cup final.
Eriksson said: "I have known Steven Gerrard can play a bit everywhere for years but we will not even discuss tactics or formations this week. This week is all about physical work. We have to wait on Wayne Rooney because everything depends on that. If Wayne Rooney is fit then he will play up front with Michael Owen because that is the best couple we have."
The fact that he has appreciated Gerrard's versatility for years but rarely played the Liverpool captain in an adventurous role would therefore suggest Cardiff will count for little come June.
Gerrard, whose partner gave birth to their second daughter last week, has been excused Algarve duties as he recovers from the effects of a 59-game season for club and country. Eriksson explained: "It's very good for Steven to have this week with his family and to take his mind off football. It has been a concern how much football he has played this season. I spoke to Frank Lampard about his 10 days off and he said it was better for him mentally than physically. It's difficult to jump from the Premiership, FA Cup final or European Cup final straight into preparation for the World Cup."
Eriksson dismissed reports linking him with a return to Benfica following the end of his England tenure - "I have heard the rumours but I haven't heard anything from Benfica" - and insisted his gamble on Walcott was not the decision of a demob-happy coach. Indeed, it is looking a safer bet after only two training sessions from the untested teenager.
"I have not picked a squad because it is my first or last World Cup, I have picked the best squad for the moment," he said. "As I said, Theo Walcott is a gamble, but he looks okay so far and I'm happy I did it. He's very calm. I asked him if he had any problems yesterday and he just said 'No', that was it. He is very stable for a young boy."
Walcott did not stand out during the training session that was open to the media and general public yesterday morning but Owen, with two goals in a brief seven-a-side game, did impress.
"There are no doubts at all in my mind about being fit for the first game against Paraguay, none at all," said Owen. "The way I look at it, people take the whole summer off and then have pre-season for four or five weeks before playing their first game. I have the added bonus of being on bikes and treadmills for the past three months. It's not like I've been sat watching TV."
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