Without Rooney, Capello must find a new England
Striking options abound, but the manager has just five friendlies to find the right ones for Euro 2012
Over the next few weeks, the consequences of what took place in those final frenetic 15 minutes at Podgorica's City Stadium on Friday night will gradually become apparent to Fabio Capello. He will recognise a scenario familiar with this England team, that in what should have been a moment of triumph they simultaneously succeeded in complicating their future.
As they qualified for Euro 2012 with that 2-2 draw with Montenegro, so Wayne Rooney's red card signalled the start of long, fraught run to their first game in Poland or Ukraine at the start of June. Already this is not a straightforward build-up to a tournament; already Capello is obliged to plan and coach for two different eventualities: a team with Rooney, and one without him.
It is a long-held belief that when it comes to England's most talented player, you accept the best and you live with the rest. That it is the same unique, instinctive capacity to defy convention that makes Rooney such a brilliant footballer that also made him kick out petulantly Miodrag Dzudovic. That if you have one then you must have the other, and it is simply England's lot that they have to sign up to this Faustian pact.
Yet Rooney, for all his 28 goals in 73 caps, has never delivered for England at a tournament and more often than not has been the architect of their downfall. He last scored a tournament goal at Euro 2004. He was injured coming into the 2006 World Cup and was sent off against Portugal in much the same circumstances as Friday. Last year in South Africa he was out of form, unfit and beset by personal issues he knew were about to be made public.
If this is a pact, where exactly have been the rewards for England? It is a fatuous argument to advance the case that England would be better off without him. He is the country's most talented footballer. But, now more than ever, England are forced to find a strategy to cope without him.
Capello's assertion that he will not make Rooney's return to the England team a formality if they are playing well at the tournament is a fascinating prospect.
The European Championship, for next summer at least, is still contested by just 16 teams. There is not the quorum of weaker sides as there is in the group stages as there are in a World Cup. England must hit the ground running without Rooney.
In 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson made the mistake of waiting on Rooney. It was a tournament that seemed on hold until the boy wonder was deemed sufficiently fit – and the team sufficiently desperate – to return to the side against Trinidad & Tobago as a 58th-minute substitute.
As with David Beckham at the previous World Cup and Michael Owen in 2006, the England manager was not brave enough to leave an unfit player behind.
If Capello can cure England of their Rooney addiction, if he can build a team that is capable of winning games without their most famous name, then it will be better for all concerned. No one expects Rooney to be a fringe player for the next four years. But this England team have always looked like they would benefit from a "No Rooney" strategy. Now they at least have time to have a go at creating one.
How does Capello do it? He has frozen out Peter Crouch, the only striker with a comparable goalscoring record, and it seems ludicrous that he will go to Euro 2012 without a striker with 22 goals in 42 caps. Andy Carroll is unproven and potentially as volatile off the pitch as Rooney is on it. Darren Bent is a seeker out of chances but hardly an attacking fulcrum. Bobby Zamora has had projected on him some of Capello's most unrealistic expectations.
On Friday night, Capello also listed Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe. "We need to prepare the first XI," Capello said. "I have got a lot of forwards at this moment, really good forwards. I need to find a solution. It will be really interesting. Those I did not select are playing really well.
"We can improve. We've got something really good. But I think we can improve. Don't forget some important players are injured now or not on top form. [Jack] Wilshere is an important player. Steven Gerrard is another really important player. Now we have [Gary] Cahill and [Phil] Jones is another good player. I think also that [Kyle] Walker is a good player. [Micah] Richards too. Welbeck is a really good player."
The next seven months will tell us much more about the suitability of the alternatives to Rooney. If Crouch continues scoring for Stoke it will be perverse for Capello to keep ignoring him. As for the young players it is Sturridge and, in particular, Welbeck that the eye is drawn back to. Two young players untainted by the failure of past tournaments or the kind of problems that have beset Carroll.
In the chaotic aftermath of Rooney's red card it was Welbeck who came on for Theo Walcott to give England some kind of attacking outlet amid the waves of Montenegro attacks.
On the night it had gone virtually uncommented on that again Welbeck had been preferred on the bench to Carroll and is now effectively Capello's third-choice striker.
Welbeck has a greater versatility and range to his game than the likes of Bent, Carroll and Defoe. He is only 20, and he may find his chances at Manchester United limited by Rooney and Javier Hernandez this season but he has something. He has not yet matured into the kind of striker that he will be in his best years – possibly the Didier Drogba-type player whom England have sought for so long – yet he is already United's third-choice striker.
It seems unfeasible that by the time Rooney's Uefa ban expires in Euro 2012, Capello might be in a position still to leave him out the side. If there is even a debate over whether Rooney returns to the team, then the England manager will have done well. But if, as in 2006 and 2010, England are simply counting the days down until Rooney can come back then Capello and the team will be no further forward.
Sam Wallace's Euro 2012 squad: Lampard and Ferdinand miss out for England
Working on the basis that you pick two players for every position (and three goalkeepers), there are some tough decisions. Frank Lampard does not make it because England need two holding midfielders (Gareth Barry and Scott Parker) and, if fit, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere are also ahead of Lampard.
Even though Aaron Lennon has drifted out of favour I'd take him ahead of James Milner, simply because he can turn a game. Fabio Capello is more likely to take Milner.
It seems increasingly unlikely that Rio Ferdinand will go. John Terry and Gary Cahill are certainties. It seems to be heading that way for Phil Jones, who also gives cover at right-back. Ferdinand's record with injuries makes him too much of a risk. At right-back I would take Glen Johnson ahead of Kyle Walker for now, but Chris Smalling as the first choice in that position.
There seems little chance that Capello will take Peter Crouch but he would be in my squad. I would take Danny Welbeck ahead of Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe. Daniel Sturridge and the Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are intriguing prospects but they would both just miss out. The third-choice goalkeeper is a problem. Virtually all of them are playing in the Championship. Robert Green's heart does not seem in it. He would be best left at home.
Sam Wallace's squad: Goalkeepers Joe Hart, Scott Carson, David Stockdale Defenders Chris Smalling, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines Midfielders Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing Strikers Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck.
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