Jason Burt: Flawed formation a wicked waste of Rooney's talents

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The Independent Football

Except none of the others was asked to play in the role allocated to Rooney yesterday. It's not a match-winning position. It's not a position designed to exploit his talents but, rather, to fit a team pattern - and crucially to accommodate others.

But England are at a stage now where, surely, the team should be built around him even if he is still not out of his teens. So what. He is that good. And he is also so much superior to those around him.

There was a sporting criminality about yesterday's proceedings and how, increasingly, Rooney became isolated as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard tried to run past him, cutting him out to try to receive David Beckham's Hollywood passes, while the wingers Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, in particular, invaded his space.

One incident, on 18 minutes, summed that up. Rooney turned sharply, dumping Danny Gabbidon on the turf, and clipped a cross towards the penalty spot. No one was there. He waved his arms in the air at the lack of support while, time and again, England floated in deep crosses aimed at Rooney's head. He's good in the air but it was a meat and drink tactic for the three Welsh central defenders. It wasn't a happy way for Rooney to win his 25th cap.

There is no question that with him England are far better, far more confident, far more able and threatening. One theory doing the rounds yesterday was that the lone striker formation sent out the message that this was Wayne's team. He was its focus. But that would be much more the case if its design had been constructed to allow him to run from deeper. Perhaps the classic number 10. A new Maradona - but with even more power, more physical menace.

Undoubtedly Rooney's best work in his career so far has come through the middle. Also true is that in his thick-set power the player he most closely resembles is the Brazilian striker Adriano, who can accomplish the lone, spearhead striker role. But Rooney offers much more subtlety to go along with the pace, power and artistry he so obviously shares with the best of the South Americans. All England's roads should be built around him. They should not be constructed to by-pass him. It would be instructive to compare his time on the ball, his ratio of possession, with his previous England appearances.

Not that he didn't have an influence. The player who was the one exception in the seamless mess in Copenhagen is simply too good not to do that.

Indeed, as early as the opening minute, with what was his first touch, he cushioned the ball, swivelled and clipped a crossfield pass into the path of Wright-Phillips. It was a half-chance. He did the same on seven minutes and then almost helped to earn England a penalty when cleverly releasing Gerrard, who was clumsily brought down by Gabbidon.

The two England players combined again after Gerrard whipped the ball away form Gabbidon. An exchange of passes and Danny Coyne saved Rooney's low shot. It was his only strike on goal in a first half where the realisation dawned that Wales had allocated to his Manchester United team-mate, Ryan Giggs, the role that England should have given to Rooney. Giggs, although a different type of player, was all the more effective for that. Rooney, meanwhile, had shifted a yard of space and chipped the ball delicately from the area's edge. It appeared to be going over Coyne but the goalkeeper clawed it, just, over the bar. Moments later, and Rooney was forced to do shuttle runs across the pitch as he, in turn, attempted to close down all three Welsh central defenders.

For the final quarter, he was shuffled over to the right and his first act was to hare back into the full-back position to hunt down Giggs.

But, no, then Rooney was sent left. Gerrard went right. Or was it the other way round? There's a difference between a fluid formation and a spineless mess and once more it was Rooney paying the price as it didn't allow him to dictate, to gain meaningful time on the ball.

"He can do everything," said England coach Sven Goran Eriksson on the eve of the match. But that wasn't the point. England should be doing everything to help him and the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, on the day United signed him last year, rang ever more true. "In 30 years as a manager, he's the best youngster I've seen," Ferguson said. But this, surely, was not the best way to recognise and nurture that talent.