Wayne Rooney assured the nation yesterday that he was a changed man from the reckless individual who was red-carded for lashing out against Montenegro a year ago, as he prepared to captain England tonight for the first time at Wembley.
Rooney was given the captaincy by Roy Hodgson after vice-captain Frank Lampard was forced to return to Chelsea for treatment on a knee problem ahead of a possible return for Tuesday's World Cup qualification match against Poland. Steven Gerrard misses tonight's qualifier against San Marino with suspension.
The one-year anniversary of Rooney's sending-off in Podgorica in the last Euro 2012 qualifier passed on Sunday, although its consequences were still being felt this summer when Rooney was suspended for the first two games of the tournament. He has not been sent off since then and, aside from Ashley Cole, who was never a captaincy contender and yesterday accepted a charge of misconduct for insulting the Football Association in an offensive Twitter post, he has more caps than any other available player in the current squad.
Rooney, 26, captained England once before, a defeat by Brazil in a friendly in Qatar in November 2009. He said of the Montenegro red card: "That was a stupid thing to do, and I regretted it as soon as I'd done it. I apologised and paid the price. It won't be happening again, I can assure you of that. After that, at club level, you saw a different person. I cut out a lot of the silly tackles and mistakes I made as a young player. I have no issue with that."
On the captaincy, he had said previously: "It is a great honour, I'm really proud and excited. It is a big night for us and my family. Hopefully it will be a great result for us and I'm looking forward to the game. I don't know [what kind of captain I will be]. I speak with all the players whether they are younger or older. I will try and get the best out of myself and the other players and hopefully they can get the best out of me."
There was another England player apology yesterday for remarks made on Twitter, this time for Ryan Bertrand, who swore in a tweet in which he expressed his anger at fans who had accused him of pulling out of the England squad with a "sore throat". That was the original reason given for the Chelsea left-back's withdrawal, although it later emerged that he had been suffering from a viral infection.
Bertrand apologised for tweeting "Do you think a sore throat could stop me being a part of a match for my club or country? #yourf******nuts this is what every boy dreams of". He later apologised for his reaction – "was just disappointed at the thought of people thinking i only have a sore throat" – and subsequently deleted his Twitter account.
The England manager, Roy Hodgson, said Bertrand would not be disciplined under the FA's new code of conduct which was introduced for the players on Monday night. Hodgson said: "His sentiments were laudable, telling how much he wants to play for England, being a little bit irritated that someone suggests he doesn't play when he gets a sore throat.
"His choice of words was wrong. I'm pleased he has apologised for it but it reminds us how unbelievably careful players of his profile have to be."
Rooney said that the players have to ensure they did not embarrass themselves or the FA when they were using Twitter. "We're well aware with the social network sites, in particular, we have to treat it as if we're doing an interview and say on the social network sites what we'd say on TV. There are people out there who are trying to provoke us. We have to be professional and not give them anything. We need to make sure we're well behaved on and off the pitch."
Hodgson said he goes into tonight's game against the lowest ranked international team in the world – San Marino are joint 207th with the Turks and Caicos Islands and Bhutan– concerned that Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Jermain Defoe could pick up the booking that would mean they were suspended for Tuesday's game. Gerrard and Glen Johnson are already banned for tonight's game with two bookings.
Asked about the kind of side he will pick tonight, he said: "It's a decision to bear in mind, in terms of keeping players fresh and the yellow cards after the Ukraine games when they were like confetti. I'd be disappointed if a minor incident cost me a player against Poland. But there are 90,000 coming to watch the game, we want to win the game and we'd like to do that by scoring a few goals. It's something I've got to give a bit of thought to."
Hodgson would not "quantify" what he regarded as a respectable winning margin against a side who have won just one of the 114 games in their entire history and have conceded 473 goals along the way. San Marino, who trained at Wembley last night, represent a republic with a population of 30,000 and draw most of their players from the lower divisions of Italian football.
Hodgson said he would deploy Rooney as a forward rather than a midfielder, a position he has occupied for Manchester United of late. "What we'll see [tonight] is a lot of attack versus defence. If I look at the videos of previous San Marino games, it's obvious they rely on the counter-attack and get players back behind the ball as early as possible. Wayne is a forward. He's a forward who can drop deep, and you could use him as a midfield player he's that talented."
England (probable) 4-2-3-1: Hart; Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines; Carrick, Cleverley; Walcott, Rooney, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck