Just enough education to perform. The title of the Stereophonics album is tattooed on the inside of Wayne Rooney's left arm and if those words have been fitting over the course of his seven years in the game then they are an understatement now. Rooney spoke in the pre-season of his desire to transform from "someone who could be great" into "someone who is a great player" and there has been evidence already in the past month that this was not just an idle declaration but the evidence of serious intent.
Rooney is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of him as talisman for club and country over the course of the next nine months, concluding in South Africa next summer. "It's definitely going to be the biggest year for me," he declared from England's camp yesterday. But with his 10 goals in seven games for England to go with four in four domestically, and the benefits of being freed from the yoke of playing bag man to Cristiano Ronaldo yielding what he considers "probably the best start I have had to a season for Man United, goalscoring wise," it is evident that the nation's optimism may not be of the usual blind variety seen in a World Cup year. The equation has suddenly became a lot simpler for Rooney: play through the middle, keep scoring and everyone is happy.
Time will tell if the 23-year-old has moved on from those bursts of goals which, for a time after they have dried up, feel like they were a rainstorm in a desert, but those 10 goals in 13 games for Capello, compared with 11 in 33 under Sven Goran Erkisson suggests a working relationship more fruitful even than that between Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Both Capello and Ferguson have told him to cut out the workhorse routine and to spend less time lurking where his own side's full-back should be, and more in the six-yard box, "being selfish", as Rooney puts it. But while Ferguson was always more inclined to give Rooney the hairdryer blast than Cristiano Ronaldo, Capello is evidently the one of the two managers who instills most fear. "I think his presence when he first arrived was clear for everyone to see," Rooney said of Capello yesterday. "He is a fearsome man, strong, passionate and wants to win."
While Eriksson seemed more inclined to leave Rooney's natural resourcefulness to flourish of its own accord, the Capello reign has been characterised by the Italian standing on a training ground with him, delivering instructions.
"He said to me 'get in front of the goal more'," Rooney said. "He is on the training pitch all the time... and telling me to do certain things. He explains what he wants you to do, how he wants us to play, what team shape he wants us to do, explains about the other teams, where the threat comes from. He's definitely the best manager for England.
"He's [also] probably the first England manager I have played under where you know if you don't play there's a chance you are not going to be in the starting XI the next game. He keeps all the players on their toes. We know we have to play well every game. He's definitely helped more than any other England manager."
Contrast this with Rooney's debut under Eriksson in Macedonia, six autumns back. The teenager began up front, was relocated after the interval at the top of a diamond behind Michael Owen and Emile Heskey in a role he had never experienced before. That said, he still became England's youngest-ever goalscorer and kept the match ball that Steven Gerrard signed with the words "Well done ugly arse".
It took Capello time to see results. Rooney's first five games under him were goalless. But he admits the Italian is breaking his instinctive need to be at the centre of all things. "I do love getting on the ball, being involved in the game and sometimes when you are not involved, it does get a bit frustrating," he admitted, grinning at the memory of Capello's reaction to him appearing during a game where an England centre-back should have been. ("I have been shouted at a few times for doing that too much!")
Mrs Rooney, firm of mind though she undoubtedly is, does not appear to have had quite the same effect on him as Capello. "I don't know about that. "We don't really talk about football," he said, when it was put to him that Coleen's influence and the prospect of fatherhood this year might have reduced the petulance which is still sometimes evident. Rooney has already said that the metatarsal problems of previous international championship seasons – in the Portugal quarter-final of the 2004 Euros, and prior to the 2006 World Cup – have sharpened his thirst to make the 2010 tournament his World Cup.
Next spring will be the time to wince at his every tackle, in fear of a reprise of 29 April 2006, and United's encounter with Chelsea which saw the second metatarsal blow. But with the work he will put in, won't he actually be on his knees by then? "Obviously I have to keep myself fit and do the right things," he reflected. "But I would rather play every game. When I play games I feel better and fitter and when I don't play a few games it knocks me a bit off my stride and I don't feel as confident going into matches." Just enough education he might have had, but the original instincts have never changed.Reuse content