Brian Viner: Rooney injury presents McClaren with first test of his succession to throne

The curious thing is that the football world has welcomed McClaren
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The Independent Online

Still, it's all happened now, so what to do? First and foremost, what to do without Rooney? Any number of permutations have been suggested this week, up to and possibly including a scheme to play Peter Crouch between Ant and Dec.

Football agnostics must be looking on, mystified, as diamonds and even Christmas trees are proposed as the formation for Sven Goran McClaren, or whichever strange hybrid creature ends up running the show in Germany, to consider.

Those agnostics must be wondering how an injury to one young man can tear such an enormous hole in the strategy to win the World Cup. Can his absence really be so decisive, and if so then why is Eriksson earning more than 10 captains of industry put together?

Besides, as Balzac once said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable people. Meaning that everyone, including Rooney, is dispensable. On the other hand, old Balzac wasn't there to see England collapsing like a punctured soufflé the second the boy limped out of Euro 2004.

Whatever, if I were Eriksson, I would get on the phone to David Moyes. I should add that if I were Eriksson, then I might never have got out of Ulrika Jonsson's bed. But assuming that I had, I would now be contacting the Everton manager to ask how it was that a team shorn of the monumental talent of Rooney promptly went on to finish fourth in the Premiership, qualifying for the Champions' League and confounding all those who had prophesied doom.

The answer, in part, is that the proud professional footballers still at Everton after Rooney's departure rather resented the suggestion that they were bit players in a one-man team. They puffed out their chests and showed that there was still some class left at Goodison, and in doing so they bonded with each other, which in turn intensified the team ethic and led to even better performances.

Obviously, England are not Everton. Obviously, it is absurd to suggest that Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and John Terry, to name but three, are bit players in a one-man team. But that has been precisely the drift of opinion in the wake of Rooney's injury. What the players need is someone to make psychological capital of Rooney's likely absence, instead of treating it like the worst news since the fall of Singapore. They need to be told, if necessary by a sports psychologist although I'd like to think that Sven might be up to the task himself, that they have four weeks to prove that their ability to win the World Cup does not rest on one set of 20-year-old shoulders, however broad. And of course they need some decent tactics. I favour the Monkey Puzzle Tree formation myself.

Which brings us to McClaren, emphatically not the FA's No 1 choice and certainly not the public's, if a Thursday afternoon phone-in on Talksport was anything to go by. So aghast were some callers that they might have been responding not to the news that McClaren had signed a four-year contract but to the news that Ian Brady, the moors murderer, had been offered parole. And the pessimism was swiftly reinforced by the nation's bookmakers. Ladbrokes made McClaren 7-2 to be England's shortest-serving manager, and a miserly 1-4 to serve less time in the job than his predecessor.

Yet the curious thing is that the football world seemed - pretty unanimously - to welcome McClaren's appointment. Indeed, it's worth noting that the last time there was such a divergence between pure-bred football men and the public at large over the appointment of an England manager, it was the public who were celebrating Kevin Keegan's elevation and the football insiders who were looking gloomy.

I remember one old coach, so long in the tooth that he kept most of them in a glass on his bedside table, telling me that Keegan didn't have the nous to manage England, and would walk out as soon as the going got tough. How right he was.

The truth is that we never know how good an England manager is going to be until he's in position, especially if he has known only club management.

Martin O'Neill - who would have got my vote, if I'd had one - is a fine, inspirational club manager, but who knows whether those skills would transport to the international arena? Alf Ramsey's did; Don Revie's didn't.

It's all a matter of personality, and luck, but more than anything else it's a matter of personnel. With poor players, the best manager in the world won't win a thing. With good players, the poorest just might.

Who I Like This Week...

Boris Johnson, the shaggy MP for Henley, who has received some adverse publicity for getting his tackle out away from the marital bed, but on Wednesday won acclaim for a different sort of tackle altogether, a mad, headfirst barge on an opposing player in a charity football match between an English XI and a German XI at Reading's Madejski Stadium.

The match, featuring a mixture of old pros (eg: Peter Bonetti) and celebrities (eg: Angus Deayton), was a bit of a nonsense. Channel Five might even have been rueing their decision to televise it, especially as Germany won 4-2. But in the last couple of minutes Boris made the entire exercise worthwhile, and provided some much-needed light relief in another dreadful week for English football.

And Who I Don't

Any one of the FA's decision-makers would fit the bill, for allowing the process for selecting the next England manager to descend into farce. But they are far too obvious a target, so instead I am directing my ire at all those callers to radio phone-ins who on Thursday fulminated as if Joe Pasquale had been appointed to manage England.

Give Steve McClaren a break; if he was good enough for Alex Ferguson to appoint him, he's probably good enough for England. On the other hand, his record at Middlesbrough notwithstanding, it's entirely possible that he is one of nature's No 2s. But let's at least wait and see.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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