James Lawton: After the soul-searching, Rooney reclaims place at heart of a winning team
He did not quite light up the moist Swiss sky but hardened belief in the old pugilistic theory that when all else around them is crumbling, fighters stand and fight
Wednesday 08 September 2010
Fabio Capello said that Wayne Rooney had enough resilience, enough natural instincts, to survive the greatest ordeal of his public life. He said it with great conviction and a trademark shrug of his shoulders.
He was, you had to believe, right in a most basic calculation and so it was when Rooney performed last night with a professional calm that was never threatened.
He may face a more bitter and emotional ordeal when he returns to his former home of Goodison Park this Saturday. There may be more unforgiving voices in his ears there but we know now that his game, if not his spirit, is as strong as it has been for some time.
Perhaps Rooney's deepest crisis, the one that may have made him look such an unfamiliarly ordinary player in the World Cup, had already passed by the time the grim headlines came last Sunday morning.
We may never be quite sure of the problem that assailed him so heavily in South Africa, but the circumstantial evidence which came with the revelations of off-field activity was something he was always going to have to deal with sooner or later. Last Friday at Wembley he certainly didn't look like a man who had private torments that were pushing him to the edge of public breakdown. He was involved in every one of England's four goals against Bulgaria and when he scored one of his own last night it was fair to assume that worries about his state of mind had been somewhat overstated.
Except, perhaps, by Capello, who said that Rooney was a strong, exceptional player in whom he continued to have much confidence.
It wasn't a bad call from the man who was so roundly accused of losing the plot, and a lifetime of previously impressively accumulated knowledge, in the bitter aftermath of defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein.
Rooney's goal did not light up the moist Swiss sky but he did harden up belief in the old pugilistic theory that, when all else around them is crumbling, fighters fight – just as a certain kind of performer in any sport is able to play when all else in his life appears to have taken on the rugged consistency of tomato puree.
No, Rooney's strike after 12 minutes did not have much of the swagger that has marked his best work since he exploded so dramatically on the face of the 2004 European Championship – and it certainly didn't begin to rival the splendour of the strike that brought the 10 men of Switzerland back into the game, when substitute Xhderdan Shaqiri swept home a shot which brought an abrupt end to Joe Hart's dawning hope that he might just prove invincible in an England jersey.
But then if England's recovery from the maelstrom of South Africa was still revealed to be fragile after a first half of impressive authority, at least it was clear that Capello's problems do not include any heart-searching about his continued belief in the value of a player who, arguably, is living through the defining days of a career which has been mostly a consequence of extraordinary natural ability.
Rooney's account, after all, could hardly be in much sturdier health on the field – which, ultimately, will always be the prime consideration of a man operating under the kind of pressure Capello has known recently. He was the creative mainspring of the victory over Bulgaria and almost formally supplied the momentum against a team whose spoiling qualities were so sufficiently well applied to confound the world champions Spain recently.
Rooney was also at the heart of most of England's most accomplished work. Two of his deliveries came within inches of helping Jermain Defoe to maintain his impressive claim on the front striker's role and when Steven Gerrard served the impressively confident Adam Johnson with the means to score his second goal in two appearances for England, it was Rooney who had controlled the ball with great calm to set up the deadly triangle.
Johnson's increasingly powerful argument for a place in the new, or newish, England was another source of encouragement for Capello. He has found in Johnson some strong currents of ambition and ability.
The same can be said for the resurrected Theo Walcott, who must now curse his latest injury misfortune after another impressive opening start on his return to the team.
It is true that we do not yet have the beginnings of real redemption for what happened in the summer, but maybe there is reason to believe that the lessons of that denouement may have been absorbed both on field and on the touchline.
Capello, unquestionably, has a few young lion cubs roaring their self-belief.
He also has in Wayne Rooney a player who may well prove that, at least as a footballer, he can grow strong at what maybe was presumed prematurely to be a broken place.
All eyes on Rooney: How he coped with the pressure on the pitch
Pre-match (1) Rio Ferdinand tweets that he will score the only goal of the game.
Pre-match (2) No evident nerves – quite the opposite – with a back-heel, a chip and some keepy-uppy. Looking like a man without a care in the world.
3 min Wastes first cross, too high for Defoe, but is rewarded with supportive chant from England fans.
6 min Better first touch but overhits pass to Defoe.
9 min Goal! Good run into the penalty area signalling for cross and tapping in his first England goal for nearly a year. His 26th equals Bryan Robson's total in top 10 scorers for England.
21 min Looking for sharp one-two with Defoe, who fails to find him with return pass.
25 min Neat chip forward for Defoe, which the Swiss goalkeeper just reaches first.
27 min Sets up Ashley Cole with a smart pass for dangerous cross.
29 min Takes a knock, indicating he should have had a free-kick, and then sends first shot high into the crowd.
42 min Another link-up with Defoe, chipping for the Spurs man to shoot.
44 min Eludes goalkeeper and defender before crossing for Defoe, who wins a corner.
47 min Creates chance for Adam Johnson with one of his flighted crosses.
69 min After a quiet spell, finds Gerrard, whose pass to Adam Johnson brings second goal.
75 min Casual pass is intercepted and sets a dangerous Switzerland attack going that leads to the booking of Ashley Cole.
76 min Better pass from just inside his own half sets Darren Bent away, only for the Sunderland striker to be caught narrowly offside.
78 min Rooney's number is up after a quieter second half as Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips comes on to replace him.
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