Eriksson's prodigy is no enfant terrible

It is the creed that says no good will come of placing all our gambling chips on Wayne Rooney and it is, of course, a palpable nonsense.

His return to the England attack against Poland was a mesmerising reminder of the destructive powers Rooney asserts over the carefully-laid plans of the opposition. Pawel Janas's team, are a well-drilled, top-20 Fifa-ranked side who draw their squad from a respectable level of European football. They have had more than a year to make preparations for Rooney, yet for their effectiveness in controlling the Manchester United striker they might as well have made his acquaintance that evening.

Sven Goran Eriksson did not know the exact total of Rooney's caps - the England coach is never too clever on the precise figures - but when he was reminded that it stands at 27 now two weeks short of the player's 20th birthday he made the appropriate reaction. "I think that is an incredible achievement," he said without fear of contradiction. Sir Bobby Charlton and the late Bobby Moore did not have a single cap by the age of 20 and neither did Zinedine Zidane, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Francesco Totti who will all be expected to do for their nations this summer what Rooney will be asked to do for his.

Implicit in the view that we have charged an inordinate amount of faith in Rooney is the sentiment that all this great weight of expectation is carried by a player who is unsuitable to bear it. That begs the question then if not him exactly who is? Rooney certainly seems a better bet than, for example, a man traumatised by the death of a childhood friend and given to playing frantic sets of tennis in the midday Italian summer heat 24 hours before important games.

That was Paul Gascoigne who would still count as the naughtiest boy in the classroom even if he was young enough to share a desk with Rooney. England relied upon him totally at the 1990 World Cup, and to an extent at Euro 96, and they did so without choice.

Likewise there was an injury-prone midfielder who made his professional debut ten days before his 16th birthday and, at 25, won his nation a World Cup despite, as he later confessed, having nurtured a cocaine habit that pre-dated the tournament by four years. That was Diego Maradona in 1986 and the point is that praying that inspiration and genius comes complete with a university degree, a sensible haircut and a respectable golf handicap is a foolish pursuit. Certainly as ridiculous as a nation convincing itself that a broken metatarsal bone can heal two months ahead of schedule which is how, you will remember, England approached the 2002 World Cup and the question of David Beckham's fitness.

It is time to acknowledge that as wayward prodigies go, Rooney has not strayed too far from the path. In the immediate aftermath of his red card against Villarreal in the Champions' League, Sir Alex Ferguson talked about separating the boy from his temper without removing the elements that make Rooney unique. That Rooney could find it in his heart to pick Radoslaw Sobolewski off the floor after the Polish defender had dived on it to save himself from being dispossessed by the teenager was a sign that rage is not his default setting.

Eriksson seems to have something of an obsession with Greece, the European champions whose utilitarian style he admired, and he said after Wednesday's game that if that side - who have failed to qualify for the World Cup - were playing against Rooney "they would have marked him man-for-man". That is an alarming prospect for next summer, the thought of Rooney trailing around a personal attendant during matches whose only job is to nag and worry away to provoke a reaction.

"I think he can deal with that," Eriksson said with a shrug, and an admission that even the England coach does not know which way this prodigal talent will list at the crucial moment. It is an uncertainty the English nation will all have to get used to, the consequence of having a truly original young master in the country's No 9 shirt.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before