It was only in June that Wayne Rooney was forced to sit out the first two games of Euro 2012 as a result of mindlessly kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic in England's final qualifier against Montenegro. With that suspension so fresh in the memory it was difficult to reconcile his presence yesterday alongside Roy Hodgson as England's temporary captain.
This summer, Rooney's absence, and the consequent falling away of his form, cost England. Just as his lack of fitness, and subsequent red card, hurt England in the 2006 World Cup finals. As did his performance and attitude in South Africa in 2010. More is expected of Rooney with England because of what he is capable of, and it is a burden he has not always been able to bear.
Yet the choice between Joe Hart and Rooney for captain was a simple one for Hodgson. If he had given it to the goalkeeper, the questions would only have been about why he had not given the captaincy to Rooney. He is that kind of figure, a controversy-in-waiting, and for all those who feel he does not deserve the captaincy the simple answer is that it was more trouble not to give it to him.
In mitigation for Rooney, his red card against Montenegro was over a year ago. Its consequences may have affected the summer but it took place in Podgorica on 7 October last year, and since then, Rooney can argue that he has cleaned up his act. He has played 44 games for club and country since Montenegro and been booked just once.
That is a surprisingly good record for a player who is, with some justification, associated with moments of impetuosity. There has been a major improvement and the Rooney who faced up to the media yesterday was open about the problems he has encountered in the past.
On his rant down the television camera lens after England's draw with Algeria at the last World Cup, Rooney claimed he had changed. "It was partly to do with my own performance. I was partly looking for a way to justify my own performance. The England fans have been great. They're always there in their thousands. Since then, I'm a different person and a different player. I've matured more as a player and a person."
It would not be accurate to say that he has improved continually since that Algeria game – he swore at the camera against West Ham United in April 2011 – but he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
His life has been a lot less chaotic off the pitch since his annus horribilis of 2010 when there were embarrassing allegations in his private life and he was involved in a contract stand-off with Manchester United. He has 76 caps at the age of 26 and is on course to earn more than Peter Shilton's total of 125.
Making him England captain for the second time in his career for a home qualifier against a weak opposition may not please everyone, but it is the sensible decision.
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