Gary Neville: Wayne Rooney must adapt and improve to stay at top
England coach challenges striker to reinvent himself and follow examples set by Scholes and Giggs
Gary Neville has challenged Wayne Rooney to reinvent himself as the England striker approaches 10 years in the international game, and a potential conversion into a midfielder for club and country.
Rooney, 26, will start in tonight's World Cup qualifier against Poland in his more customary No 10 position behind the striker - likely to be Jermain Defoe - but Neville said that as the Manchester United player got older he would have to accept that he needs to "improve" in order to face "the next challenge in his career". In an interview with BBC Sport, Neville, one of Roy Hodgson's coaches, said that Rooney could still have his best years in the game ahead of him as he approaches his 27th birthday in eight days' time.
Rooney has been selected by Sir Alex Ferguson to play in midfield against Newcastle United in the Premier League and Cluj in the Champions League this season.
Neville said: "At the age of 26, you always have to think that there's more to come. You can't get to the age of 26 and think 'My best years have gone'. He has now to challenge himself. That's the challenge that always exists when you play for Manchester United and England, at the highest level of football, to keep reinventing yourself. He has got great examples of players who have continued to do that in Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, how they have adapted their games.
"Ryan Giggs has gone from a flying out-and-out left winger to someone who now plays off the front, inside left, central midfield. Paul Scholes was a goalscoring midfielder, an off-the-front No 10 player, when he first started playing as a 16-year-old. Now he's a holding midfield player who controls the game.
"You have to adapt. Wayne Rooney is still a centre-forward, but he'll adapt over this next 10 years to continue to become someone who's thought of in that same way as those two players. We need to see Wayne Rooney improve, Wayne Rooney needs to see himself improve and in the last few weeks, coming back from that injury, I've seen a lean, fit, hungry Wayne Rooney.
"He looks like he is up for the next challenge in his career where he has got people like Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck around him.
"He has got a huge challenge around him just to maintain his position at Manchester United but he looks like he is really up for it."
Hodgson could make up to six changes to the side that beat San Marino 5-0 on Friday. Kyle Walker did not take part in training at the National Stadium in Warsaw last night and his calf injury means he is likely to be replaced by Glen Johnson, coming back a one-match suspension. The big decision for Hodgson is on which of his lead strikers he selects to play further forward than Rooney in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system.
Defoe and Rooney trained together in attack yesterday and the Tottenham striker is now the marginal favourite to come in ahead of Welbeck, despite the Manchester United player having scored twice against San Marino.
It is anticipated that Hodgson will tell his players the team this lunchtime but one of the certainties is Steven Gerrard, the England captain who returns after suspension. He will show his usual high level of pride in representing his country and yesterday rejected Patrick Vieira's claim that English players do not want to play for the national team.
Gerrard said: "It surprised me [the comment]. The impression I get, from young players at Liverpool, is that they are desperate to get into this set-up. That is what I notice. You can see in their faces that, when they are left out, it has disappointed them. It did not annoy me because I don't really care what Patrick Vieira says. The young players are hungry."
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