Hodgson should be wary about which Rooney will turn up

The much-lauded striker is back from suspension but he could make or break England's Euro 2012 campaign

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This time, no one needs to say "the big man is back in town", as did the FA official whose legendary words at the 2006 World Cup finals have somehow always been attributed to Wayne Rooney himself. Rooney has been everywhere here in the past 12 days – up on his feet and grinning as cameras seek him out almost before the England goalscorer; first up the tunnel at the training ground, lugging a bag of balls over his shoulders. Not satisfied with blasting them past Jack Butland at a session last week, he skulked at the post and cheekily blocked Andy Carroll's shots on the goalline.

All this sense of anticipation for the "ace in the hole," as Hodgson has called his man, feels rather ominous, however. When "the big man" did make it back to England's ranks, six years ago, his adrenalin was so far off the scale that he could not think straight and, what happened next on the Ruhr – a kick at Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho and a red card – belongs to a very familiar pattern. Roy Hodgson was unhappy when Rooney was described to him in the early hours of yesterday as a "caged animal" but that's what the man with the new grade one short-back-and-sides, the work of the hairdresser who set up shop in Ashley Young's hotel room, has been looking like.

Hodgson fetes Rooney to a degree no one quite expected. He named him twice in the first two minutes of his post-match press conference on Friday evening and that was before any journalist had even raised the subject. He is England's best talent by a mile, yet those who have seen him at close quarters know another Rooney when the atmosphere rises to its most febrile. This is the player who said "fuck you" to a local South African referee at Moruleng, as England went into the last World Cup, who insulted England fans after the subsequent 0-0 draw with Algeria and whose ability to contend with the pressure of international tournaments is written in the statistics. Rooney has not scored in such a competitive gathering of nations since 2004 and has managed only three goals for England in the last two and a half years.

Sir Alex Ferguson would probably counsel Hodgson that building Rooney up won't help. The Manchester United manager has kept him back from matches on Merseyside, where his poor goals tally reveals the struggle for a clear head in a bearpit. When Ferguson, in his attempts to play Rooney down, refused to discuss the possibility of him notching his 100th Manchester United goal at Goodison Park a few years ago, it was put to him that this might be a good news story. "Well let them get the Beano or the Dandy, or some Agatha Christie novels," he replied. "There's plenty of reading material out there. Jesus Christ!"

The outside clamour is certainly the one aspect of Rooney's environment you can control because, as England managers who have worked with and adored Rooney's raw brilliance attest, you attempt at your peril to change the was he plays. "One thing for sure is you can't take away the temperament of a player," Sven Goran Eriksson told The Independent last year. "Because if you take [that] away – he will lose something else. Rooney lives on his temperament. He is strong when he is tackling. When he decides to go without the ball he goes, or decides to go with it – boom. Everything is elegance, of course, because he is elegant. But it also power, power, power. If you take aggression from a powerful player, it will be difficult I think..." Donetsk's heaving Donbass Arena, packed with baying Ukrainians on Tuesday evening, is some game for a comeback, incidentally, and it certainly offers more potential for Rooney to combust than at that fateful night in Montenegro, last October, where when he kicked out at Miodrag Dzudovic.

A further concern is how Rooney will respond to Hodgson's system which against France left the front men a very long way from the manager's two deep, serried banks of four. He is more capable than any other English player to glide between the lines, win the ball and connect play but everyone knows the sequence of events when his team-mates do not draw him in to playing football. The red mist, the 20 yard chase back for a tackle, the name in a referee's book. Ukraine, who must attack two days from now and leave space for him, may not be the problem. Spain, from whom Rooney can expect both provocation and long periods of frustration as his team try to win back the ball in a possible quarter-final next Saturday, may be something else entirely.

It was the image of Rooney, crestfallen and hands on hips, which adorned the cover of Time magazine, two weeks ago for an essay charting 'The Tragedy of English Football' and he is certainly the enigma who now best encapsulates what the magazine described as "the sad saga of world's most disappointing team".

His England managers believe he can help lift them above the very moderate side we have seen this week, which is why they just can't help garlanding him with praise. "There isn't a better player in the world than Rooney," reflected Capello, as his England days drew towards their end.

Roy Hodgson: 5 good calls

John Terry

Hodgson said he would be an asset and so it has proved. Strong v France and just about won an uncomfortable battle with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not a divisive figure this time.

Steven Gerrard

The depth of Gerrard's delight at being appointed as permanent skipper has been a surprise. But his quiet authority has made captaincy call a very fine one. Superb v Sweden.


Hodgson bravely pursued the much-maligned system for specific challenge of Swedes. Vindicated when two out of the three goals v Sweden came from wide areas and were scored by strikers.

Andy Carroll

Hodgson bristles when accused of being cautious but was bold with Carroll's selection. He delivered one of the finest England headed goals in the modern era from Gerrard's pinpoint cross.

Theo Walcott

Excellent tactical call to introduce him at a time that James Milner was being pushed into retreat by right back Martin Olsson. Crucially, Walcott forced Olsson to run back towards his own goal as England turned the game around in Kiev.

When Rooney blew up

June 17, 2004 Sven-Goran Eriksson's assistant, Steve McClaren, and David Beckham, told him to cool it as he almost earned dismissal at start of Euro 2004 v Switzerland. Booked for lunge on Swiss keeper.

November 17 2004 Seethed during poor, 1-0 defeat v Spain in Bernabeu. Booked after dire challenges on Iker Casillas and Carlos Marchena. Finally substituted by Eriksson amid dissent to referee.

June 7 2010 Verbal outburst to referee at Moruleng during England's last warm-up game for South Africa World Cup.

June 18 2010 Launched tirade at fans after 0-0 draw v Algeria in World Cup. "Nice to see your own fans booing you," he said to TV cameras.

October 7 2011 Sent of for kicking out at Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic, which saw him banned for first two fixtures at Euro 2012.

The ifs, buts and maybes of Group D qualification

France beat Sweden, England beat Ukraine, by either the same margin or an inferior one to the French.

Winner: France. Runner-up: England.

France beat Sweden England beat Ukraine by two or more goals than France have managed.

Winner: England. Runner-up: France.

France beat Sweden. England beat Ukraine by a goal more than France have managed. France and England finish level on goal difference, so group finishing positions are determined by the number of goals which have been scored by either side – currently England four, France three. If they are still level, England will top the group thanks to Uefa's co-efficient ranking system.

France draw with Sweden, England beat Ukraine.

Winner: England. Runner-up: France.

France draw with Sweden, England draw with Ukraine.

Winner: France. Runner-up: England.

France lose to Sweden, England lose to Ukraine, but by two goals fewer than France.

Winner: Ukraine. Runner-up: England.

France lose to Sweden, England lose to Ukraine by same margin.

Winner: Ukraine. Runner-up: France.

France lose to Sweden, England lose to Ukraine by a goal fewer than France. France and England finish level on goal difference, so final group positions are decided on goals scored – currently England four, France three. If still level, Ukraine top the group. England finish runner-up via Uefa co-efficient ranking system.

France draw. England lose.

Winner: Ukraine. Runner-up: France.

France win, England lose.

Winner: France. Runner-up: Ukraine.

France win, England draw.

Winner: France. Runner-up: England.