James Lawton: England must learn to accommodate Rooney's short fuse

Eriksson has to ignore doubts about young Everton player's temperament and select him for crucial European Championship match with Turkey
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The Independent Football

Worrying though it is that Wayne Rooney currently appears to be auditioning for a Harry Enfield sketch on the more poisonous effects of puberty, his place in England's team in Istanbul on Saturday should not be in doubt.

His credentials may not include evidence of any swift maturing of his personality along with the prodigious precocity he displays on the field with the ball at his feet, but in among them is surely one clinching asset. It is that he is capable of producing astonishing football way beyond the potential of any of his team-mates.

Rooney is a naturally explosive talent and utterly critical to the debate about whether he should start on Saturday is the fact that he has already proved it against the Turks.

It may be that the 17-year-old, who already has five yellow cards this season, on top of last season's six and one red, will never come within a light year of the discipline which marked the careers of such England strikers as Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker and is so apparent in the play of Michael Owen. But then if the picture of Rooney's contorted face as he protested to referee Dermot Gallagher about the decision to give a free kick against him was particularly unpleasant, it was not exactly unfamiliar.

Not, certainly, to anyone who was at the Sarria Stadium in 1982 when Brazil beat Argentina in a World Cup game. Then it was the face of the young Diego Maradona which seemed to call for an exorcism as much as a lecture on good manners in dealing with match officials. Maradona was finally sent off for calling the Israeli referee Avraham Klein "hijo de puta" - son of a whore. Four years earlier the Argentina coach Cesar Menotti had decided that the infant prodigy was too immature to risk in a World Cup played in front of passionate home fans. For England coach Sven Goran Eriksson a similar decision on Rooney, before the Istanbul match, especially with his doubts about the fitness of Owen and David Beckham, would surely be to err on the side of extreme caution.

The point is that Rooney, just like Maradona, is always likely to have a short fuse; it has come along with the freaky genetics that have produced such phenomenal ability, and what Eriksson and Rooney's club manager David Moyes have to do is adopt the pragmatism of all seasoned football men. It is to take the rest along with the best of a player who can significantly improve your team's performance. This does not, of course, preclude regular discussions with the player about the self-defeating effects of any loss of control. However, it is also true that for Eriksson the issue has not become a direct problem. Rooney's record with England is clean.

Advocating Rooney's inclusion in Istanbul is to go directly against the view of Terry Venables, which, when dealing with football instincts, is not the easiest of positions to take. Having represented his country at every possible level before his conspicuously intelligent tenure as national team coach, Venables also warrants respect for his achievement in getting more out of the troubled Paul Gascoigne, both for his country and his club, than any other football man. But on Rooney he takes a surprisingly conservative position, writing in his Sunday newspaper column: "The game against Turkey requires self control and discipline and a cast-iron determination to stay on the field no matter what the pressure and provocation. I'm not convinced Rooney has that - yet."

Perhaps not, but then if we cast our minds back to Sunderland's Stadium of Light last April we will surely recall that the claim of "cast-iron discipline" on that occasion could scarcely have been made on behalf of Rooney's captain David Beckham, who spent the first half of the game apparently hell-bent on earning a yellow card or worse. The caution came, inevitably, and took the captain out of the important game with Slovakia. It was left to Rooney to utterly transform the match with Turkey. He brought terror to the hearts of his opponents. One minute they were trading blows on an equal footing, the next they were diminished and, soon enough, completely cowed.

Eriksson is surely not likely to forget who it was that inspired a victory that far outstripped anything that England had previously produced in qualifying. With Owen in doubt, there is also the question of alternatives to England's two utterly outstanding strikers. The leading candidates are James Beattie and, on the strength of his ruggedly effective contribution to England's long-ball recovery in the second half of the game in Macedonia, Emile Heskey.

Heskey appears to be the favourite among those who say that playing Rooney is a risk. It is here that the argument teeters into nonsense. Heskey has a big heart and a big frame, useful in those bleak times when England are reduced to the most primitive hoofing. Rooney is a superb talent impatient to conquer new ground. Denying him the chance to build on his thunderous performance against the Turks would be something worse than lily-livered. It would speak of a coach denying a team the potential best of itself.

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