World Cup 2014: Wayne Rooney urged to seize his big chance in Brazil

 

England's first World Cup finals group game against Italy is four months off, and tradition dictates that at this stage, the great question of modern times will be posed once again: is this the World Cup finals at which Wayne Rooney finally blossoms?

It is the fifth tournament of his career, some going for a man who will not be 29 until October, and yet it is still his first, the European Championships of 2004, that carries the fondest memories. He rushed back from a broken metatarsal in the 2006 World Cup and four years later was still trying to recover his form after an ankle injury in March, before the tournament in South Africa in 2010.

When early projections were made, more than a decade ago, about the likely course of Rooney's career it was around this time it was anticipated he would be coming into his prime. In some respects he has not disappointed, with 38 goals in 88 caps he is on course to break Sir Bobby Charlton's England record of 49 goals, but he hardly needs to be told what history's judgement will be on him in the case of another lacklustre World Cup.

With Rooney suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012, at least this summer Hodgson has the prospect of his player being available from the start of the tournament, fitness permitting, and the England manager believes this could be Rooney's tournament.

"Wayne has had a break, an enforced break through injury," Hodgson said. "You can argue he's had his winter break which some players didn't get. And I think with Wayne it's a great opportunity this year to really show on a world stage what a magnificent player he is.

"Maybe once or twice in the past, he hasn't exploded on the world stage as he has maybe on our national stage where we all accept him as an outstanding player. Certainly the message to him is, 'This is your chance. Sure you'll be a bit tired. But so will Luis Suarez and David Luiz and other players, because they are also playing in the Premier League and playing every game, like you'. Strangely enough, in the past we've lamented, as England, our season, the intensity of our league, and how that puts us at a slight disadvantage.

"But going through the [Premier League] players the other day, the fact that there are [estimates of] 23 Frenchmen playing regularly in the league, 15 Belgians and 14 Spaniards etc, means we're not going to be quite so much alone as we once were. These players will be joining their teams at the end of the year equally tired.

"Luis Suarez is not going to be any fresher at the end of the season than Wayne Rooney. I certainly rejoice in the fact that he's playing so well."

If there was any doubt as to Hodgson's reliance upon a big performance from Rooney this summer, he demonstrated how closely he has been scrutinising the player with a detail from Sunday's 2-2 draw between Manchester United and Fulham.

"One thing I was disappointed about that didn't get picked up was that the equalising goal for United on Sunday came from Rooney winning a header against Dan Burn in the box. Burn was just about to head it out and Rooney got in there, got a touch and pushed it wide for Juan Mata who shot and Robin van Persie put it in when it went across goal.

"But the interesting one there was Rooney's actual header, headed challenge and header, against 6ft 7in Dan Burn. That says a lot about what he's doing at the moment. He didn't get a lot of credit for that but he got a lot of credit in my eyes, that's for sure."

Reds and metatarsals: Rooney's tournaments

Euro 2004 Took Portugal by storm aged 18 in starting all four of England's games as they reached the quarter-finals. Scored four goals before succumbing to a foot injury.

2006 World Cup Rushed back from metatarsal injury to return as sub in second match. Started next three games but unable to score. Sent off against Portugal.

2010 World Cup Began all four matches but suffered effects of ankle injury. Again failed to score, swearing into a TV camera after 0-0 draw against Algeria.

Euro 2012 Banned for opening two games then returned with only goal of the game against Ukraine. Struggled for fitness in quarter-final defeat to Italy.

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