Waste of Rooney's talent is least of Sven's mounting problems
Thursday 08 September 2005
Not the most Irish sounding surname in the England team, nor the disdainful attempt at goal as he trudged off last from the warm-up to a chorus of jeers that intensified once his effort drifted wide. For the true reason why Rooney's hair-trigger temper appeared once more in an England jersey last night look no further than the decision to leave him isolated, impotent wide on the left of Sven Goran Eriksson's latest experimental journey. Frustration guaranteed.
The need for experiments, rather than established solutions to varying obstacles over four years of Eriksson's reign, has been the dominant theme of the latest round of World Cup qualifiers. The conclusion, although one that should have been obvious, was that they should not come at the expense of the team's most outstanding talent and only ever for his benefit.
Rooney, best suited to the right if required to play off the front man, according to his international captain David Beckham, is well acquainted with the demands of the role at Manchester United, a point his international manager raised in his own defence before the test of character in Belfast yet one that overlooks the fact the England version is entirely different to the one deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy is far more adept at holding the line than Michael Owen but it is the all-important desire for location that most restricts Rooney's impact in Eriksson interpretation of the system.
At United the 19-year-old may float, but rarely further than the central channel behind the Dutchman where he can exploit his capacity to attack from distance. In England's first attack of last night's game, when Beckham threaded the ball towards a host of white shirts on the edge of the Northern Ireland box, Rooney was stood on the left touchline, arms raised, pleading for the ball, or pleading for a release from his unnecessary confinement.
Starved of possession and watching from the fringes of the action combine into one certainty where Rooney is concerned; intense irritation. England's obvious first-half ploy to seek out Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right-hand side left the Manchester United star even further from the fulcrum, the distance between himself and Owen staggering before his second-half switch alongside his strike partner, and ensured his obvious frustration would come to the fore even quicker.
Throwing himself into challenges with Keith Gillespie and James Quinn revealed an annoyance in Rooney that he was unlikely to overcome whilst wasted out wide, and one that erupted minutes before the interval when, seconds after missing Gillespie with a free-kick, he found himself booked by the Swiss referee Massimo Busacca for a foul on the home forward.
Physically restrained from collecting a second booking for berating the fourth official, then subject to a quiet word from Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand as he walked off at half-time, memories of Madrid were not hard to recollect. At least Eriksson did the striker a favour during the interval, moving him into the centre and receiving, co-incidentally, a far more mature performance as a result.
Rooney, the central figure, the teenager who can make all the difference in Germany next summer, should never be relegated to the supporting cast, despite his inherent ability to reclaim the spotlight for whatever reason.
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