Fear of Rooney power cut

Another experiment emerges from Sven's laboratory as midfield bodies are switched
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The Independent Online

There is a crack of lightning above Camp England, the Sclosshotel-Bühlerhole, and with a fiendish glint in his eyes, Sven Goran Eriksson cranks up the power, yanks back a sheet and offers us a creation with which he seeks immortality. His own immortality, that is. The way he has laboured, you can visualise him as a footballing Frankenstein, and this his testament to a life's work.

It may just be a vision of genius; never mind the odd bolt here and scar tissue there. Then again, it may be just a disjointed collection of quality spare parts. He may have created a monster which could yet rampage though this tournament. Or it could ultimately destroy its creator. Perhaps not today, against Ecuador; maybe not next Saturday, against Holland or Portugal. But before Berlin in a fortnight's time.

From Sven the Survivor, he has become Sven the Impaler (of conventional wisdom). Suddenly, weird and wonderful experiments are being conducted in his laboratory: Wayne Rooney thrust into a lone striker's role, for instance. It is not really how it appears, though; Eriksson emphasised after the draw against Sweden, when asked for the umpteenth time whether he wasn't a bit light on the attacking front, that he regards Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard as auxiliary strikers. You can bet that duo will be expected to provide regular supporting sorties to the boy wonder.

How long will Rooney's power-pack last before he is a spent force, in the predicted intense heat and in that isolated role? Eriksson maintained airily after Tuesday night that "the Manchester United man could have played longer" against Sweden. You didn't have to be a medical man to question that analysis.

But who remains, due to the Swede's obdurate refusal to hitch another striker to his herd of young stallions? Michael Owen is home, alone, but there is the always willing Peter Crouch and, yes, Theo Walcott, of whom Eriksson reflected, in a mystified tone, as though it was absolutely nothing to do with him: "We have not seen him on the pitch yet". Curiously, what the Ecuador defenders fear most, they readily reveal, is a battery of high crosses, British-style. On this occasion, if no other, one would have suspected Crouch to be the tormentor to Ivan "Bam Bam" Hurtado and his rearguard.

A couple of years ago, Alan Shearer could have fulfilled such a role. Now we learn that, in what the more cynical among us can only assume is Steve McClaren's attempt to elevate his image as England's No 1-in-waiting, the former Newcastle striker has been invited to link up with Team Macca after this World Cup. No doubt a splendid influence on morale, but then Beckham rather let the side down when he described him as "one of the greatest goalscorers I ever played with. But as a coach I don't know, because none of us have seen him in that arena".

At least if Shearer was here, he could have put some positive spin on the current head coach's initiatives. For a time last week, it appeared that Eriksson would retain his midfield minder, Owen Hargreaves, who must have cut it with the England followers because he received a ripple of applause on Tuesday. That, for him, is a tumultuous welcome. He was as neat and tidy as a punctilious housekeeper in his preferred role, and kept things simple. Suddenly, you turn your back, like Jamie Carragher probably did, and you find Hargreaves has usurped you at right-back, presumably to become a kind of butler, "in service" to Beckham.

The vacuum Hargreaves has created has been filled by Michael Carrick who, spurned by Eriksson, may as well have been shopping and partying with the WAGs since arriving here. Ecuador may provide nothing like England's most daunting examination, but this quasi- quarterback role, after such previous inaction, is an awesome responsibility for a player whose vision is not always matched by a trueness of direction.

Which brings us back to the Beckham Question. There is a simple principle to be applied here: when the former striker Ian "on-a-TV-set-somewhere-near-you" Wright contends that "Beckham is our Ronaldo, so let's give him a break", those who harbour doubts about the world's brightest star since that supernova above Jerusalem know they are on the right track. Whatever else he does, or fails to do, for England, Beckham drones, usually self-servingly. He was at it again on Friday. "There are agendas out there," he declared darkly.

Well, there probably are. Item one consists of a critique of his qualities of captaincy. Item two, and more crucially, considers his contribution on England's right flank. Reports on both have found him wanting.

Eriksson has laughed away suggestions that Beckham is about as untouchable as a son and heir discovered impregnating one of the servants, but that convinces few. The England coach will continue to confirm his faith in a right-sided midfielder whose sole stock of talent is invested in his crossing and set-piece prowess. Eriksson will do so because he is, rightly, uncertain about the alternative.

Aaron Lennon appears a decent prospect in the Premiership and has exhibited potential against moderate inter-national opposition, but he is yet to be judged against solid and uncompromising World Cup defenders. It should not surprise us if Lennon emerges at some stage today. But will it mean the captain again being found alternative duties, at full-back?

Beckham's will not be the only reputation vulnerable to scrutiny today. Ashley Cole , for one, will have to be at his most accomplished as a defender. All of Ecuador's five tournament goals have originated on the right flank, where Luis Antonio Valencia is apt to dominate if his presence is not negated. Germany did so by asking Philipp Lahm to track his runs. The policy succeeded, albeit against a weakened team denuded of five players who will start, fresh, against England.

Eriksson's team, possessors of superior class, should prevail in spite of their head coach as much as because of him. Anything less than that will have the torches aflame. And not in his honour, as a departing hero.