Rooney agrees with critics over form

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney has admitted some of the criticism of his early-season performances has been fair.

The England striker is in fine form ahead of Saturday's World Cup clash with Kazakhstan.

Rooney has scored in his last three games for Manchester United, in addition to the goal he got in the Three Lions' staggering 4-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb.

His hot streak has overshadowed a sluggish start to the campaign, which saw him left out of Sir Alex Ferguson's side against Bolton.

Ironically, that move proved to be the trigger for Rooney's return to top form as the 22-year-old knew he was not performing at the level he wanted, with Ferguson and Fabio Capello confirming he spent too much time tackling back.

"Maybe sometimes the criticism has been fair," he said.

"I am self critical and watch all the games again. When I have not played well, I am disappointed and look for things to try and improve.

"As a centre-forward you do not want to be going too deep.

"But I also think it is natural to go looking for the ball if you are not getting it.

"Hopefully I can get on the ball in dangerous positions so I can stay upfield."

Rooney got the ball in enough dangerous positions to terrorise Croatia, producing what was probably his best performance in an England shirt.

With Theo Walcott providing rapid pace on the right and Emile Heskey acting as a perfect foil for Rooney in attack, England were a team transformed, not just from the bad days under Steve McClaren but the early performances under Capello.

Little wonder there have been so many smiles on faces this week, with Rooney confirming change had to come.

"Meeting up this time is certainly different," said the United man.

"Everyone is laughing and smiling and looking forward to the two games ahead.

"I just feel Fabio's message is starting to get through.

"I don't know why but for three years we have probably not played as well as we wanted and not won as many games as we wanted.

"Something definitely was not right. Hopefully under Capello that will change."

Rooney will win his 47th cap at the weekend, a reminder of how far he has come since becoming England's youngest player when he made his first appearance against Australia in 2003.

At the time he was just 17 years and 111 days, 36 days older than Walcott was when he took the record by winning his first cap against Hungary in May 2006.

Despite the vast gulf in experience, there must be some empathy between the pair. And Rooney was delighted that Walcott has finally been given a chance to show off his skills on the highest stage again.

"I am really pleased Theo got the chance to play in the last two games," said Rooney.

"He must still be on a high after that hat-trick against Croatia.

"It was so good to see him respond the way he did.

"I don't really have any advice for him. He just has to keep enjoying it and playing well because he will be a great asset for us.

"He brings something different compared to what we have had before."

Rooney's assessment is not meant to be a criticism of the rather more sedate David Beckham. Neither is his praise of Emile Heskey an attack on Michael Owen.

However, it is becoming clear England are moving into a different era, even if many feel Beckham, who is in the squad, and Owen, who is not, would be useful weapons to have on the bench in a crisis.

Of more immediate priority is Capello's choice of centre-half given skipper John Terry is almost certain to miss out with a back problem.

Although he has not officially been ruled out of Saturday's encounter, as Terry has not played any meaningful part in training this week and is due for a brief return to Chelsea, it is hard to see how he can be considered.

Even Wednesday's trip to Belarus must be in doubt but for now Capello must choose between Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Wes Brown to partner Rio Ferdinand, who will take on the captain's armband many feel should have been his anyway when Capello decided on a permanent skipper in August.

All three men have claims on the role, with Brown's knowledge of Ferdinand's game from their time together at Manchester United possibly a factor.

In reality, against such limited opposition, it should not really matter, with Rooney determined to add another three points to the six England began their World Cup campaign with last month.

"The last two games have gone really well for us but the next one is just as important," he said.

"If we can add another three points to the six we already have, and then get a win in Belarus next Wednesday, it would be a brilliant start to our qualifying campaign."