Wayne Rooney left nothing to chance over his involvement in tonight's Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland by approaching Fabio Capello personally on the flight to Basle yesterday to assure his manager that he was in the right frame of mind to play for England despite the intense scrutiny on his private life.
After the flight from Luton airport took off yesterday morning, the 24-year-old left his seat and, watched by his team-mates and Football Association officials, walked down the aisle for a brief chat with Capello. The England manager and his advisers had been concerned over whether Rooney would be mentally fit to play in the game and were planning to make a call on his suitability after last night's training session.
With that dilemma widely reported in yesterday's newspapers, Rooney took the initiative in telling his manager that he was fine to play in the game, amid allegations in the News of the World that he paid a prostitute for sex during his wife Coleen's pregnancy. The conversation on the plane between player and manager was understood to be brief.
Later Capello said of Rooney: "I've spoken to him. [It was about] private things. He will play. I monitored him during the training. He was good. He's focused on the game. I think during this period, when he was on the pitch, he forgot any problems he has."
Rooney trained last night at St Jakob's Park with a freshly shaven head, having been given the assurance by Capello that his private life was an entirely separate matter to his responsibilities on the pitch. "Look, you have to separate, to divide, at different moments the private life and the job," Capello said. "You have to be strong to divide the two. You have to do the job really well, and find solutions to the problems [at home]. They are two different things. My job is the first part. The other part is his problem."
The arch-pragmatist when it comes to dealing with the problems of careless young English footballers, Capello refused to be drawn into a comparison between Rooney's situation and that of John Terry, who was sacked from the captaincy over the allegations that he had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-fiancée of his former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Terry denies those allegations.
In response to a question on the problem of making decisions based on the behaviour of his players in their private lives, Capello swerved the issue. "John Terry played all the games after what happened [he was sacked as captain by Capello in February]," he said. "It was only the armband. I felt it was important to do that. He [Terry] is still like a captain of the England team."
The argument that the stars of the England team also have a responsibility as role models was waved aside by the manager, who said that it was not just English players who found themselves in such scrapes. "Yes, Rooney is an important player for England, for the young people, for all English people. But also I read, I saw, in other parts of the world this happen. In France and in Germany. At this moment, we have to be focused on the game, not other things."
Capello will go with the relatively untried pairing of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill in the centre of defence tonight. In the absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ledley King and Michael Dawson, England's two central defenders tonight have only six caps between them. Cahill made his England debut against Bulgaria on Friday as a second-half substitute for Dawson.
There was support for Rooney from Steven Gerrard, who said that the football pitch provided a relief for high-profile players who found themselves in trouble away from the game. The stand-in England captain made a comparison with his own court case in July last year, in which he was eventually cleared of affray, and the respite he found during that time in playing.
Gerrard said: "You have to [ignore the outside problems]. You're in a situation, if you have an issue off the pitch, where you have to park it. But sometimes football can be a release from it. Once the game's started you're focused on what happens on the pitch, not what's going on off it. I played some of my best football when I was going through the court case. I'm sure, once the game starts, Wayne will focus on the game.
"I've been with Wayne Sunday and [yesterday]. He's trained normally. I was speaking to him at lunch about the game, and he seems OK and is ready to play. You guys know Wayne like I do. I don't think I'll need to [say anything to him]. He played really well on Friday night, trained well and I'm sure he'll put on a performance [against Switzerland]. He was one of the major reasons why we won the game [against Bulgaria] the other night. We're looking for more of the same from him here."