Wayne Rooney yesterday became the first senior England player to back John Terry after his sacking as captain, but the Manchester United man warned that the country's top players do have a responsibility to act as role models and modify their behaviour in their private lives.
There will not have been a long queue of England players willing to face the press after such a tumultuous five weeks for the team but Rooney gave Terry the endorsement the Football Association was hoping for. Fabio Capello and his employers were eager for a senior player to back Terry in order to draw some kind of line under the fallout from Terry's alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-fiancée Vanessa Perroncel.
Rooney duly obliged, responding to the question about the England players' attitude towards Terry by saying that the squad were "happy to have him around". Rooney did not comment on the specifics of the Terry-Bridge saga, instead saying: "He is a great player, if we are going to win the World Cup then we need John Terry. He is a big player for us and we need him."
There is also a fear at the FA that Terry will be booed by England fans when he appears at Wembley tomorrow in the friendly against Egypt, a fate that has befallen Owen Hargreaves, Peter Crouch and Ashley Cole at various times both at the national stadium and in internationals at Old Trafford. Rooney appealed to supporters not to turn upon the former England captain.
"I hope the fans don't boo him," he said. "I have played in England teams when some of our own players have been booed. It is not nice for the whole team, not just the player who has been booed.
"When you are leading up to a World Cup you want the fans behind you and giving you their whole support. I think that will be really important so I hope he gets a good reception."
Rooney said that he will be fit to play tomorrow, having taken a kick to his knee this month. He had complained of pain after the Carling Cup final on Sunday but a scan yesterday showed no significant damage. Having once committed some infamous teenage indiscretions off the pitch, Rooney is now in the unusual position of reminding the squad of their responsibilities off the pitch.
The 24-year-old said that he had calmed down his lifestyle with marriage and fatherhood. He said: "It is difficult. As a footballer you know people look up to you. You are role models whether you like it or not. You need to try and be aware of that and try and do your best on the pitch and try and do things well for kids to see. When I first joined Manchester United I used to go out to nightclubs, but it is very rare that I would go out to a nightclub now. It changes with age. I made that decision myself. I got into a few things that I shouldn't have and I tried to change that. I am settled at home now. It's good.
"I am enjoying my life with my family. I spend a lot of time at home with them and that has obviously benefited me. When you are home you get your rest and it is definitely benefiting me."
On the subject of Wayne Bridge's retirement from international football over his rift with Terry, Rooney said that it was not his "business" but conceded that England were "weakened" without Bridge. "It is Wayne's decision," he said. "I don't want to get into it. He will be a miss because he is a good player and would have replaced Ashley [Cole]. Everyone is different. I don't know too much about the situation."
Having dodged that particular issue, Rooney was on to the more solid ground of his performances in recent months, which have yielded 28 goals already this season, albeit just one for England. When it was put to him that the Germany coach Joachim Loew described him this month as "unstoppable", Rooney could only politely agree.
It has often been the case that Rooney would simply blush and lower his eyes at mention of his reputation in football. Even he, however, could not deny hat he was playing the best football of his career.
"I do feel unstoppable, I feel good," he said. "I feel every game I play I am going to score. I think I am ready [for the pressure]. It cannot be as bad as before [the] 2006 [World Cup]. That was a bit weird, the team was preparing for the tournament and most days the focus was on whether I would be fit. I am ready for the World Cup. I am in the best form of my life. I am ready."
It was curious that when Rooney was invited to examine England's dire injury situation in defence – especially Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole – he also sought to highlight the problems for Aaron Lennon as central to the likely success of the England team this summer. Lennon is still out with a groin problem that could yet require surgery.
Rooney said: "Aaron Lennon is a massive player for us, he is a great outlet and he can carry the ball and put opponents under pressure for us. Hopefully, he can get back too."
This is a good moment for Rooney, just as much as it is a bad one for the likes of Terry and Ashley Cole, for various reasons. "I will be focusing the best I can [before the World Cup," Rooney said. "I won't let anything distract me. I hope not."Reuse content