Rooney hails his Zagreb best

England forward says Croatia was his peak but there is better to come

On the basis of a Portuguese summer four years ago, two England managers have come and gone clinging to the belief that if Wayne Rooney performs then the problems of the England team itself will fade away. The man himself has never quite repeated the impact he made at Euro 2004, but if he is to be believed now, Rooney has never played as well for England as he did in the second half against Croatia in September.

That was what Rooney said this week as he contemplated tomorrow's 2010 World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan. Better than his two goals against Croatia in Euro 2004 or the two against Switzerland in the same tournament? "In Euro 2004, because I scored a few goals, everyone remembers that," Rooney said. "But I think I've played better than that many times where I haven't scored. In the last game against Croatia I really enjoyed it."

It was "probably the best 45 minutes I've played for England" and that went for the team as well. That second half in Zagreb was, Rooney added, the best England performance he has been a part of in his 46 caps, for the way England seized hold of the game. "We controlled the game, we were always comfortable in possession, and a threat nearly every time going forward," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I think we can play even better than that, hopefully in the upcoming games."

Given that Kazakhstan, with their comic connotations, are ripe for a traditional England cock-up, that counts as a bold statement. Rooney is a complex character, a difficult player for any manager to get the best from when you take into account the imponderables of his best position, his ideal strike partner and, of course, his volatility. At Euro 2004, before he broke his toe, it all looked blissfully simple for an 18-year-old ready to conquer the world but, for his country at least, that has not been the case since.

Funnily enough, Rooney, who does not turn 23 until later this month and could win his 50th cap against Slovakia in March, said he felt he should have played more times for his country. He bemoaned the games missed through injury and suspension and the failure to reach Euro 2008 with the wistfulness of an old pro. "I was speaking to the lads about it a couple of days ago and I'm quite disappointed to be honest," he said. "If all had gone well, I could have more than 60. I'm a bit frustrated. It's not bad though, but as a player you want to play for your country and win things."

Despite his goal against Croatia in September there has been a gradual acceptance that Rooney is never likely to be a prolific international goalscorer (he has 15), although he is no longer judged on goals alone. His average of goals to time spent on the pitch is one every 219 minutes – not good – but he seems a bit more at peace with idea of himself as an occasional goalscorer. "There were times when I've played very well, but just because I've not scored I've been criticised, which I'm not too worried about," he said. "Being a forward, if you don't score you always get criticised. I'm aware of that."

Asked where he would play himself if it was him picking the team, Rooney said cautiously that he would prefer the role playing "just off the front man". "That's what I enjoy doing most," he said. "But at United I have been used in different roles, out wide a lot. I've no real complaints. If you don't play well and you don't win it gets seen as a bigger problem than when you do win.

"I like playing in behind the forward. Probably it's because you are getting the ball more. I don't like to be out of the game too long. Some forwards can stay up and not touch the ball, they just look to score." Mentioning no names, of course, but that is the approach favoured by Michael Owen, and to a lesser extent Jermain Defoe, that Capello is unwilling to accommodate within the current England team. Whether Rooney and Emile Heskey prove to be the long-term solution to the problem is, taking history into account, unlikely. Capello believes that above all he lacks a goalscorer: he does not have faith in Owen and the statistics tell him that it is not Rooney.

Rooney has never quite delivered on the promise of four years ago, a point he was prepared to concede when contemporaries like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were mentioned. "Those players you're speaking of deserve to be up for world football player of the year for the way they've played," he said. "Hopefully, I can get there one day. If I keep working and progressing I'd like to think I could. But as I've always said, it's not about me, it's about the team."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Life and Style
life
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee