Rooney steps up but rest look out of step

"Have I toyed with the idea of making Wayne Rooney captain?" Sir Alex Ferguson settled into his armchair and considered the question. "Toyed is a good word, but I don't think he's ready."

The Manchester United manager was speaking in Kuala Lumpur in July as his team prepared for the kind of game England indulged in the Khalifa Stadium last night – a lucrative exhibition match in a very foreign field. Just as he did with David Beckham, Ferguson could see Rooney as many things but not as a leader of men.

It was hard to tell if the boy from Croxteth was inspired by the armband Fabio Capello handed him, because Rooney would have been inspired by a kickabout on the beaches that in Doha are hand-raked every morning.

No footballer since Paul Gascoigne has so obviously relished playing, although if Rooney wished to fulfil an ambition to captain his country, he might not have chosen to lead out an England side of whom only Gareth Barry could be called a first-choice international in an emirate on the Arabian Gulf, and he would not have wanted to lose. But he would have hand-picked Brazil as his opponents.

Gascoigne was a non-starter as captain, and not just because of the "Fuck off Norway" interview he gave to Norwegian television. And so only a few years ago was Rooney. Part of the job of a captain is to inspire the men around him, something Bryan Robson and Bobby Moore achieved effortlessly while relaying instructions from the bench, but at Everton the teenaged Rooney was almost astonishingly inarticulate.

At a press conference called at Goodison to announce a new contract for their golden boy, his manager, David Moyes, was incensed beyond reason by Rooney's refusal to stop chewing gum or swigging water from a bottle during the interviews. Yet latterly Rooney has grown up to the extent that before Manchester United travelled to Chelsea last weekend, Ferguson remarked that he was sick of answering questions about Rooney's "maturity".

Throughout most of a hot, barren Arabian night, Brazil were so effortlessly in control that his captain might as well have joined Capello on the bench, and perhaps it was a sign of this maturity that Rooney's temper did not snap, as it has so often before.

However, as a pointer to the long term, this was a disturbing evening. As Glenn Hoddle noted when making Alan Shearer his captain, there is something to be said for making your best player captain. Take out the men who have only one World Cup left – Terry, Ferdinand, James, Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard – and Rooney is, in terms of ability, as far ahead of the rest as he was at Copplehouse Juniors.

The men on display against Brazil represent the future, but while Milner, Upson, Brown, Defoe, Barry and Bent are useful international players, none is remotely world-class.

The England of the future will depend heavily on Rooney, Theo Walcott and perhaps Owen Hargreaves. In 1972, as Manchester United's decline became glaringly obvious, George Best went to Sir Matt Busby and asked the manager to make him captain and build a new Old Trafford side around him. Busby refused, and Best quit. Whether or not they win the World Cup, England will have to rebuild, probably around Rooney.

England in the past year have beaten Germany, drawn with Holland and lost to Spain and Brazil, which forms a pretty fair reflection of where England stand under Capello. In the November before the 2006 World Cup, England played another South American side – Argentina – in another tax haven, Geneva, and won 3-2. A hope that died in the German summer that followed was alive in Switzerland: that England were on the verge of something remarkable. Last night in a land where oil has allowed fantasies to be created, there was rather more reality in the air.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home