James Lawton: Rooney was just 17 when thrust into the spotlight - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

James Lawton: Rooney was just 17 when thrust into the spotlight

Oxlade-Chamberlain is not a sure-fire prospect but there is not much else compelling in the air

There could only be one thing worse than messing up to the extent of England on the approach to football's second most important international tournament.

It would be to lie down in the consequences of neglect and a scarcely believable complacency.

It would be to shuffle in and out of the tournament which Spain won so gloriously in Vienna four years ago and was distinguished by some brilliant football from the likes of Russia and the Netherlands along with fresh evidence that no one can touch the Germans when it comes to making the best of what they have.

It would be to accept the status of tournament makeweights as some dismal fait accompli.

But then how to avoid such fate? One possibility is for England manager Roy Hodgson, the man who has been required to delve into the ruins, to follow at least in one respect the footsteps of his predecessor Sven Goran Eriksson.

Arguably the best thing Eriksson ever did as England manager – and with better luck it might just have been a defining move – was to pick Wayne Rooney for his first competitive game at the age of 17.

The kid was on fire at the time and England, recall it or not, had been cutting almost as sad a spectacle as the diminished Euro squad which in the last few days has persuaded so much of the nation, including Hodgson, that probably the most sensible idea is to hope for some miracle resurrection before the onset of the Brazilian World Cup in two years.

There was another possibility, however, as Hodgson mulled over his team for tonight's psychologically important second warm-up game against the multi-talented young Belgian team at Wembley.

It was that rather than persevere with the worthy but too often deeply predictable James Milner and Stewart Downing, as the word from the camp was suggesting yesterday, he made the same kind of investment as his Swedish predecessor.

This demanded that some time between today's kick off and the opening game against France he should give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the same chance to make a similar impact to the one produced by the young Rooney. It is not, after all, as though there is much else compelling in the air.

No, the Arsenal 18-year-old is not such a rounded, sure-fire prospect as Rooney when he so brilliantly exploded across the face of a Euro qualifier at Sunderland's Stadium of Light one April night nine years ago. But, yes, he does have some of the same fierce qualities, the same self-belief, the same refusal to tread gently amid his betters, or should we just say seniors.

Rooney did it quite magnificently that night on Wearside – and with a little more time Oxlade-Chamberlain might have had something of a similar impact in Oslo last weekend. As it was, he was still quite the brightest aspect of an ultimately turgid 1-0 win over an extremely poor and unambitious Norwegian team.

He reminded you that there are good, promising young players with plenty of ability – and there a few others who announce that they are ready when they take their first taste of action at the highest level.

Rooney did it so consummately well when he came into the Everton team as a 16-year-old that it was only the most conservative instincts that questioned Eriksson's decision to inject such young blood into a flagging "golden generation". A few days earlier they had been wretched against the postmen and the goat-herders of the Alpine principality of Liechtenstein, labouring goalless in the first half, then simply outlasting the part-timers and the amateurs with two second-half goals.

England were not much better in the opening exchanges with Turkey, who had played their way into the World Cup semi-finals less than a year earlier. There was little or no impact from David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen before the new boy took over the game. The moment of transformation came when Rooney chested down the ball and went by two Turkish defenders as if they didn't exist. He played with optimism and a power which spread confidence throughout the team.

We will never know where Eriksson's initiative might have ended but for Rooney's injury in the quarter-final of the Euro 2004 tournament he came to illuminate so brilliantly. However, we do know what it did achieve, which was nothing less than the animating of a jaded team, one which had come to lose belief in itself.

Nor can we be completely sure of Hodgson's reward for putting faith in Oxlade-Chamberlain, but there is encouraging evidence. Some of it came in Oslo and before that there was his performance against Milan, when Arsenal came so close to preserving their Champions League life. Also, there was that stirring effort against Manchester United. However he explained his expression later, Robin van Persie was undoubtedly aghast when his young colleague was required to leave the field in favour of Andrei Arshavin.

Oxlade-Chamberlain created sparks and passion on those nights and now he says at a time not hard to mistake for national football despair: "When you are a young lad you want to play in massive tournaments. I can't wait."

It was a statement without guile or caution and hopefully some time over the next few weeks we will be able to recall it with some considerable warmth.

Rodgers follows the true Shankly doctrine

All those who feel that Liverpool may not have made just a sound choice in Brendan Rodgers but quite possibly an outstanding one can only be heartened by a confident, candid performance when he arrived at Anfield yesterday.

Most encouraging was his revelation that he made it quite clear to the American ownership that he was not prepared to serve under a director of football, even one as worldly and as successful as the veteran Dutchman Louis van Gaal.

It was another way of saying that, while he understood certain duties had to be delegated in a big and ambitious club, there could be only one boss, only one voice in the vital matter of building a new team. It is a time-honoured principle and no one believed it more implicitly than Rodgers' great predecessor, Bill Shankly.

Rodgers also talked about the need to measure the team's progress in terms of league performance rather than the vagaries of knockout competition. It was another classic principle that used to be written in stone at one of the great clubs.

Rodgers admitted he could offer no guarantees in his huge challenge but what he could do, apparently, was hit some very true notes indeed. It was very much a case of so far, so good.

Pietersen's Test exit would be too big a loss

When Kevin Pietersen announces he has given something "a great deal of thought and deliberation" it is not quite the same as anticipating a decision of great, selfless wisdom.

His decision to abandon one-day cricket for England, and focus on the rewards of the Indian Pyjama, sorry Premier, League, is disappointing – especially with his superb revival in the 50-over format – but it was hardly a total surprise in someone whose frequent enthusiasm for the team ethic has not always passed the test of reality.

However, it wasn't so hard to share some of his recent angst in the controversy which came when he criticised Sky commentator Nick Knight. As one of the most persuasive selling points for any TV audience, he too was entitled to have his say.

Sky may provide superb coverage of big-time cricket, they may have reason to believe they own it, but this was going rather too far.

The big hope now must be that in all the fallout, Pietersen is not lost from Test cricket – and especially the next Ashes battle. His sublime double-century at Adelaide in the last series would be just one reminder of the extent of the loss.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week