James Lawton: The gamble of dropping Rooney ignores the fact he is manager's best bet
Friday 11 February 2011
It is reported from Copenhagen that Fabio Capello has been "forced into admitting" that at some point in the near future he may drop Wayne Rooney.
Were thumbscrews applied? Was Il Capo threatened with a one-way walk out to the harbour to take residence with the fishes who swim around the Mermaid statue?
We really need to know because otherwise it is a little early in the Rooney piece to drop him back into the queue alongside players like Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, Ashley Young, Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll.
All of them have their virtues, no doubt, and in the case of Carroll we may just be looking at an authentic phenomenon, but a little perspective does need to be retained.
Yes, the clock is ticking but Rooney is 25 years old and, at least to anyone who knows a footballer from a Morris dancer, is quite separate from any of his rivals for a starting position.
This is still true despite his lousy World Cup, his lousy league season and his ultimately lousy behaviour when he and his agent pulled the contract stunt that brought new dimensions to the twin problems of greed and disloyalty.
Even in these worst of his days, and at the nadir of his reputation, he is capable of performing aspects of football with which most of his English contemporaries are simply not familiar.
Capello, as he makes his last push to leave some impression on English football, is not so rich in his resources, despite certain encouragements in the eventually comfortable victory over Denmark, to deny himself the virtuosity of Rooney. True, the goal count has become a drought and it is a problem that no doubt exercises his Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson quite as much as Capello.
Still, it is reassuring to note that a few people, who no doubt included Capello, managed to draw their eyes away from the statistics long enough to see that in Copenhagen he produced some moments of authentic brilliance and that, with young Jack Wilshere also in attendance, England's game at times had genuine ease and rhythm.
No, it didn't dissipate the fear that we may have seen the best of Rooney in an England shirt when he was still a teenager, when he inspired the whole team to superior effort against Turkey, who were recent World Cup semi-finalists, in a European qualifying game in Sunderland, and then in the finals outshone utterly such luminaries as Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Owen and an out-of-position Scholes.
There have been a few convulsions since then, no doubt. He ended the 2006 World Cup in shame when he lunged at the genitals of a fallen Ricardo Carvalho and there had been earlier evidence of some unravelling, not least when he threw down his boots after being replaced in a group game against Sweden.
However, frustration was not exactly peculiar to Rooney in that tournament. David Beckham surrendered the captaincy in floods of tears, an unfit Michael Owen seriously crocked himself and, of course, Rooney should have been rehabilitating a serious injury and at least 500 miles away from the Black Forest.
In South Africa last summer Rooney's form and demeanour were dismaying. Even there, though, it had to be noted that in the opening game against the United States he produced moves which should have led to goals – and a degree of momentum.
No player, it is true, can be guaranteed selection. But then it is also right that some are more indispensable than others. Rooney is still one of them.
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